Commentary: Despite progress, more of the same for DePaul men’s basketball

For a second, it looked as though things had turned around. Then, just like that, the men’s basketball team came back down to earth.

A 99-94 double-overtime victory over Butler Jan. 9 netted DePaul its first conference road win in more than a year and five days later, a 77-75 triumph over St. John’s had the Blue Demons riding high on their first conference winning streak since 2008.

It was enough to make you believe that maybe, just maybe, the team would snap out of its seemingly endless funk. But three consecutive losses, none of which were close, have put a damper on the once-promising campaign. In addition, injuries have ravaged the bench and team suspensions have left fans and media with all sorts of questions.

In Saturday’s 86-69 blowout loss to Seton Hall, Cleveland Melvin was on the bench due to a violation of team rules. Jamie Crockett has been out for weeks for an undisclosed reason, and the early success seems to have all but dissipated as Oliver Purnell’s squad continues its sordid play.

For all intents and purposes, this is Purnell’s best team since he arrived at DePaul. While the depth is lacking and the team can’t shoot beyond 15 feet, there are four players-Melvin, senior Brandon Young, and freshmen Tommy Hamilton and Billy Garrett Jr.-who have given the program a boost.

Garrett and Hamilton are particularly intriguing. While they’ve each had their struggles in 2013-2014, the potential is there to deliver big time somewhere down the road. Garrett has already secured Big East Rookie of the Week honors four times and Hamilton has a rare combination of inside toughness and touch from the perimeter. These two players will lead DePaul into the future after Melvin and Young move on to greener pastures.

That’s where DePaul basketball finds itself. It’s a mediocre squad with talent that has yet to gel. The departures of Melvin and Young, two of the finest players to ever grace a basketball court for this school, will undoubtedly hamper growth.

So what’s the solution? It seems to be a question that has no answers, but there are steps that can be taken to ensure the considerable skills of Garrett and Hamilton aren’t wasted while the team wallows in perpetual mediocrity.

First of all, Purnell simply has to recruit better. This almost goes without saying, but it’s more than just finding the diamond in the rough. DePaul’s biggest problem right now is depth, which they have absolutely none of. Even the most average teams in the country have a guy that can come off the bench and give you a few long range shots or high energy plays per game. At the moment, many of the players on DePaul’s bench exist purely because there needs to be a body to fill the roster. They are hard working individuals, but their skill sets simply don’t match up with most of the country.

The second thing Purnell needs to do is find a shooter. Seems simple enough, but DePaul hasn’t had a dependable shooter since Quentin Richardson almost ten years ago. There is nobody on the team that can spot up from three consistently. With only a handful of players that can score in the first place, the lack of range kills offensive momentum for long stretches of time.

Depth and range-there are many other issues, but these are the two biggest. If Purnell can recruit to fill those holes, DePaul will find that they will learn to win close games. The pillars seem to be in place, all that matters now is surrounding them with enough structural support to succeed in the future and compete with the best that the nation has to offer.