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Big East preseason coaches’ poll puts DePaul in last place

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With very few believers outside of the program, it’s going to be DePaul basketball against the world this season.

The Big East Conference revealed its 2017-18 preseason coaches’ poll on Wednesday, Oct. 18, as players and coaches gathered at Madison Square Garden in New York City for Big East Media Day. For the second season in a row, the coaches have picked the Blue Demons to occupy the cellar of the Big East.

Head coach Dave Leitao says the preseason poll is based on how teams looks on paper and how teams performed last season, which doesn’t reflect DePaul’s true potential for the coming year.

“We’ve got a lot of new things going on,” Leitao said. “I don’t think the Big East or America knows who Max Strus is, they don’t understand Austin (Grandstaff’s) potential contribution, and nobody knows Marin Maric.

“Our six new people will have a lot to do with our success this year, so I’ll take (our preseason ranking) as motivation,” Leitao said.

The Blue Demons will count on several new faces to become key contributors this season. Veteran transfers Austin Grandstaff, Marin Maric and Max Strus will wear Blue Demon colors for the first time after transferring over from Oklahoma, Northern Illinois, and Division II Lewis University, respectively.

Grandstaff is renowned for his shooting stroke, while the athletic 6-foot-10-inch Maric gives the Blue Demons a big body that can anchor down the paint. Strus impressed at DePaul’s open practice on Saturday Oct. 14 with his athleticism, shooting ability and fearlessness driving to the paint and shooting the ball.

Former associate head coach to Leitao, Rick Carter echoed his old-boss’ response, saying the 2017-18 roster is filled with giant question marks and unfamiliar names.  Many of those names, like Strus and Grandstaff, have never played in front of the coaches voting in the poll.

Carter says he expects the Blue Demons to crack the top half of the Big East standings by the end of the year.

Leitao believes the Blue Demons have the physical talent, the camaraderie and the chemistry to move their way up the Big East standings, but he also recognizes that growth will be difficult in a power-house conference that sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament last year. .

“The problem that we face is that (the Big East) is a very difficult league top to bottom,” Leitao said. “I can’t name another league that 70 percent of their teams went to the tournament last year and no one got significantly damaged by graduations and other things, so everyone feels like they are in the same place as they were last year, if not better.”    

The Blue Demons also welcome in a talented freshman class headlined by four-star guard Justin Roberts. The two other scholarship freshmen, Paul Reed and Jaylen Butz, bring much needed size and athleticism to DePaul’s frontcourt.

“They are learning, it’s a process,” graduate transfer Maric said about the scholarship freshmen on the team. “Jaylen, Paul Reed and Justin are really good. They listen, they are really coachable, which I really like. They are in the gym all the time. You know we created like little secret handshakes with all of them, so it’s pretty cool. They bring a lot of enthusiasm to the practice. A lot of good stuff coming from the freshmen.”

First place or last place, Leitao says the team’s approach will be the same.

“It’s cliche, but it’s true, coaches take it game by game and day by day,” Leitao said.

The Blue Demons begin the regular season on Nov. 11 against Notre Dame at Wintrust Arena. The game begins at 3 p.m.

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Big East preseason coaches’ poll puts DePaul in last place