Talent carries Blue Demons to strong start

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Talent carries Blue Demons to strong start

DePaul freshman forward Romeo Weems dunks the ball against Cornell on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

DePaul freshman forward Romeo Weems dunks the ball against Cornell on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul freshman forward Romeo Weems dunks the ball against Cornell on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

Alexa Sandler | The DePaulia

DePaul freshman forward Romeo Weems dunks the ball against Cornell on Saturday at Wintrust Arena.

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For the last 14 years the DePaul men’s basketball team hasn’t had much to cheer about. Until last year the program hadn’t had a winning record since the 2006-07 season. The program has been starving for something positive to go their way that they can use to build momentum, and they finally got that on Nov. 11 when they went to Iowa and dominated the Hawkeyes en route to a 93-78 victory.

For the first time in years, there is a real buzz surrounding DePaul because of their impressive win over Iowa and the fact that they have started 5-0, the best start for the Blue Demons since the 1986-87 season.

The schedule has been kind to DePaul to begin the year, with four of their five games coming at home. But like the first week of college basketball has shown, there are no more easy games in the sport. Former No. 1 ranked Kentucky lost to Evansville (who?) at home on Tuesday. Northwestern opened their season with a loss  to Merrimack , a new addition to Division I basketball, and Loyola-Chicago lost to Coppin State at home.

DePaul has not only managed to win their first five games, they have done it in dominant fashion, winning each game by an average of 18.8 points. But the big win came on Nov. 11 at Iowa in the Gavitt Tipoff Game when the Blue Demons sent a message to the country: this is a different DePaul team.

The dominant performance by the Blue Demons, which began with a 13-0 run to start the game,  had people on Twitter asking “is DePaul basketball back?” Well, the answer to that question depends on what people perceive being “back” is. For some, that will mean making a run to the NCAA Tournament, something the program hasn’t done since 2004. For others, the answer is pretty simple: there is real talent on this roster.

There is still a long time before finding out if the DePaul will make the NCAA Tournament, but if they do, it’s going to be because the talent on this roster is the greatest it’s been for over a decade.

In the first three games of the season it was hard to judge how good the roster is because the opponents weren’t the strongest, but against Iowa the disparity in talent was clear from the tip.

“Approaching it like we’ve tried to approach it since the summertime is that we have to have an inner-confidence anyway, and what this does is just fortifies  that,” Head Coach Dave Leitao said. “You have to be careful because just like you have to teach when they don’t win, you have to teach when you win, and you don’t want to get ahead of yourself because that would be a major mistake. So, the confidence has to be tampered with understanding that the things we need to do continually and a lot of things we need to do better.”

Last season, the team relied on three seniors, Max Strus, Eli Cain, Femi Olujobi, to produce most of the offense and anchor the team on defense. This season, however, there is no go-to-guy the team relies on each game. In the first three games of the season, it was junior guard Charlie Moore who led the offense, but against Iowa he only played 17 minutes because of foul trouble. So, the team turned to another junior: Paul Reed.

Reed had 25 points and 12 rebounds against Iowa. The Hawkeyes tried throwing different players at Reed to find a matchup that would contain him, but each time Reed’s size, athleticism and talent outweighed any adjustment the Hawkeyes made.

“It felt good to win, that’s always the goal,” Reed said. “Personally, I just do whatever I got to help us win. In the game, I guess it was just me, I just had a good game.”

Reed has elevated  his game this season after being named the Big East’s Most Improved Player last season, averaging 15.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game.

“I feel like can’t nobody really guard me,” Reed said. “You put anyone in front of me, I feel like scoring. Maybe I was just in that zone [against Iowa].”

The play on the court hasn’t been perfect throughout the entire 40 minutes of each game. Against Iowa, the team committed 21 turnovers, missed 10 free-throws and got outscored in the second half 48-40.

“So, that’s a lot of my message, as much as anybody thinks that you played well, there’s still so much room for improvement,” Leitao said. “Execute a whole lot better, we turned the ball over, we didn’t break pressure very well, shoot free-throws very well, I’m not happy with our rebounding. So, there’s a lot of room for improvement like any team is at. So, we got to keep our mind on that more than anything else.”

It will take some time before everyone can truly find out how good the team is. Visiting Minnesota and hosting Texas Tech will be good barometers of how far this team can go this season. But one thing has been established from the first five games: this is the deepest and most talented Blue Demons team in over a decade.

While DePaul continues to fine-tune their game before they begin conference play, they are letting their talent do all the talking right now. For a program that hasn’t much to cheer about recently, that is as good as they could have asked for to begin the season.