Blue Demon basketball preview: Viking invasion


The DePaul bench celebrates during a 72-70 victory against Penn State Nov. 15. Richard Bodee I The DePaulia

Lucky for the DePaul Blue Demon men’s basketball team, Norris Cole probably isn’t going to come running through the tunnel wearing a green and white uniform when the Blue Demons square off against the Cleveland State Vikings at Wintrust Arena 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Cleveland State has regressed a bit since Cole’s time with the team from 2007-2011. Their last winning season was in 2014-2015 and the Vikings are off to a 2-5 start to the 2017-2018 season. Their two wins this season came against Division II Urbana University and South Carolina State out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (South Carolina State is ranked 347th out of 353 teams in the Ken Pomeroy rankings). DePaul and Cleveland State have met once (in 1986) and the Vikings rolled 90-75.

Viking’s second year head coach Dennis Felton is two wins shy of 200 for his career. Four out of five of his regular starters this season are freshmen or sophomores and the league coaches picked the Vikings to place seventh in the Horizon League in its preseason poll. One of those sophomores Tyree Appleby has lived up to his billing as a preseason All-Horizon League First-Team selection, averaging a team-high 14 points on 42.9 percent from the field and a team-high 4.3 assists per game this season. He’s a highly cerebral player who sees the floor extremely well for a player who is 6-foot-1-inch tall and he is also good at finding crafty ways to get to the bucket. He played in 34 games last season with 26 starts, so he’s also an experienced player even though he’s only a sophomore.

At 6-foot-9-inches tall, forward Stefan Kenic stretches the floor with his 40.7 percent average from 3-point land. His 333 points last season placed him in the top 10 in program history for total points by a freshman. Through seven games, his scoring average, field goal percentage, and 3-point field goal percentage have all improved from last year. At 220 pounds, he lumbers around the court but he’s still able to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot.

Seth Miliner (43.8 percent from 3-point land on 2.3 attempts per game) and Kasheem Thomas (44.4 percent from 3-point land on 2.6 attempts per game) add additional floor spacing to a team whose greatest asset offensively is its 3-point shooting (35.8 percent from deep this season which is still only 122nd-best in the country). Defensively, the Vikings are porous. They’ve surrendered 82 points per game in their five losses this season.

Particularly observant Blue Demon fans will notice several familiar faces on the Vikings bench Wednesday. Al Eichelberger played his freshman year at DePaul before transferring over to Cleveland State. In a much more significant role with the Vikings now than he enjoyed with DePaul two years ago, he’s averaged 8.1 points on over 50 percent shooting from the field. Additionally, current Cleveland State assistant coach Bryan Tibaldi was an assistant with the Blue Demons from 2015-2017.

After a 95-70 defeat at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday where the Irish outscored the Blue Demons 56-34 in the second half, DePaul will look to regroup over the next week as they navigate through a softer portion of their schedule.