The No.4 Syracuse Orange take on the DePaul Blue Demons on Saturday in Chicago. Expectations what they are, this one isn't inspiring quite the same emotional response that the Georgetown game did. The Blue Demons are 8-12 and en route to another disappointing season in the Big East. This isn't the DePaul that crushed Syracuse 108–69 in 2006.
So what's the heck is going on over there? I spoke with John Templon over at Chicago College Basketball to get a feel for what the Orange can expect on Saturday as well as what DePaul is up against as a program and as a member of the Big East. (My answers to his questions can be found here).
DePaul, DePaul, DePaul...what the heck happened? You were an NCAA Tournament team as recently as '04 and a post-season qualifier as recently as '07. How did it get so bad so quickly?
Things went downhill for DePaul for 2 reasons. 1) The Blue Demons joined the Big East with a coach (Jerry Wainwright) that wasn't prepared to recruit at a Big East talent level. 2) Wilson Chandler, who was an excellent collegiate player, left after his sophomore season - and that aforementioned NIT bid. Those two things really have hurt the program. Now players are leaving for no apparent reason (see Dar Tucker) and the lack of talent is really being exposed. The players that are there really do hustle, but beyond Mac Koshwal there's no true Big East talent on the roster and no legitimate point guard for any level. Koshwal's injury and the injury to Michael Bizoukas, who could've been a decent player this season, have really hurt DePaul.
Quite simply, how does DePaul get better? And if they don't, do you fear that the Big East will say goodbye?
In order for DePaul to get better they have to find more talent. You can't win in the Big East without talent. Schools like Syracuse and Villanova are consistently bringing in NBA-quality players and in order to compete with them you have to have players with similar skill sets. Thus, raising the level of recruiting is imperative for DePaul as it tries to get back into the Big East race. The interesting thing about the Big East is that there is a somewhat soft underbelly in which to work if you've got some players. With 16 teams there are always going to be a few that are down. The problem is that DePaul's been down ever since it joined the conference. We'll see how the off-season goes, but if DePaul doesn't make the commitment to bring in a coach that recruit the Chicago area and is a proven winner I think I'll begin to worry about the school's place in the Big East.
Does the Marquette win give this program new life or does it look like it was more of a lucky break?
The Marquette win was a lucky break over a team that doesn't seem to have any luck this season. Still, it was also some parts hard work. DePaul played very good defense early in the season. The Blue Demons guarded everyone and made it tough for them to get baskets. As the season progressed, and the losses mounted, that defensive tenacity seemed to run out. When Tracy Webster replaced Jerry Wainwright the fire seemed to be lit underneath some of the players again. Sometimes they're just way over-matched athletically on the court, but if the Blue Demons can slow the pace down and grind with teams, then they might be able to use the "Marquette blueprint" again.
Tracy Webster, currently the interim coach after Jerry Wainwright was fired. Can he be a long-term solution or does DePaul need to bring in "a name?"
I think DePaul is going to have to bring in "a name" to be the next head coach. Unless Webster was to run off a shocking string of wins during the end of the Big East schedule or make a deep run at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament, this is nothing more than an audition for future gigs. He's never been a head coach even though he's work under some of the most respected names in the Midwest and DePaul needs a real shot in the arm. The worry is that none of those "names" will want to come to Lincoln Park. Dayton's Brian Gregory has rejected the overtures of the Blue Demons a few times before. If DePaul ends up with someone like Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery will that be enough? It's hard to say.
If DePaul is going to have any chance against Syracuse, which players are going to have to make it happen?
There is no one on DePaul's roster that can drive into the middle of the Syracuse zone. One player that might be able to do some damage if he can catch on the wing is Devin Hill. His tendency to spot-up and shoot jump shots and not go to the rim at 6'9" drives me insane, but he's got the right skill set to maybe bother the zone. Of course Will Walker will have to have a great shooting night in order for DePaul to stay in the game. Also, this might be more a statement about the program than anything else, but two walk-ons: Nate Rogers and Ryan Siggins, might be DePaul's 2nd and 3rd best shooters. They could see more playing time than usual against the Orange.
Thanks to John for taking the time. Keep an eye on Chicago College Basketball for updates.