COMMENTARY: From red hot to ice cold, DePaul men’s basketball season officially dead


Nati Harnik/AP

Oscar Lopez Jr. watches Creighton’s Ty-Shon Alexander celebrate a dunk on Feb. 15, 2020.

DePaul’s season has officially hit rock bottom. The Blue Demons were on life support heading into Saturday’s game against Creighton at the Chi Health Center. After a 40-minute beatdown, the Bluejays pulled the plug on DePaul’s miserable conference season.

It’s over. It’s done. 

The Blue Demons had a week to prepare for their game against No. 23 Creighton, and the performance they put on the court was flat out embarrassing – with the end result being 93-64, the third worst loss of Dave Leitao’s second tenure. 

DePaul’s slim NCAA and NIT hopes were hanging on by a thread entering Saturday’s game, so the reasonable expectation was they would take every remaining game as a must-win. Instead, the Blue Demons looked disinterested and unprepared from the tip and, as a result, got handed a humiliating defeat against a team that looked like they were playing for its season. 

Creighton, on the other hand, “played possessed” and took a 42-28 halftime lead and turned that into a 25-point lead two minutes into the second half. Their coach, Greg McDermott, had his team ready and fired up to face the Blue Demons, a game the Bluejays went into as a nine-point favorite. 

Leitao, on the other hand, looked lost and a coach who has ran out of answers in a season that has taken a turn for the worst. His star junior forward, Paul Reed, came out flat and with not a lot of energy in the first half, scoring no points and only playing nine minutes. Reed finished the game with only three points in 12 minutes of action, both season lows for the Florida native. The rest of the team, besides Romeo Weems and Charlie Moore, seemed like they have tuned out their head coach as the season begins to come to a close. 

The Blue Demons’ offense was just as pathetic as their head coach in the first half, turning it over 12 times, shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 30 percent from the 3-point line. DePaul’s offense was better in the second half, going 14-of-29 from the field and 5-of-9 from behind the arc. But the Blue Demons’ defense was as strong as a paper napkin, the Bluejays shot 67.9 percent from the field and 53.8 percent from the 3-point line in the second half alone. 

Junior forward Jaylen Butz only played 15 minutes and scored two points, while senior guard Jalen Coleman-Lands had six points on 2-of-7 shooting. A team that was laser focused in the non-conference and opened up with a 12-1 record, has the look of a team that is defeated and searching for someone to get them out of this mess. The attention to detail that the players and coaches had to begin the season, which resulted in the program’s best start since the 1986-87 season, is all but gone. Leitao seems to have lost the locker room. 

“Tale of two teams,” head coach Dave Leitao said after the game. “One was playing aggressively, and the other one was not. There wasn’t the amount of energy we needed collectively, and as a result, there was no level of offensive or defensive execution.”

Leitao can make any excuse that he sees fit, but his team has been unprepared to play conference games since game one against Seton Hall on Dec. 30. Saturday’s game was the culmination of their horrific Big East showing this season, and Leitao has run out of answers on how to save a sinking ship. 

Leitao’s final roll of the dice was to play 11 players in the first half, including sophomore guard Flynn Cameron who has only played in three conference games this season. But like most of Leitao’s tactics in his five years at DePaul, nothing good came out of the new rotation Leitao implemented as his team trailed by 14 at the break. And after 15 minutes to regroup at the half, the Blue Demons managed to look worse in the second half. 

Meanwhile, Seton Hall has dropped two consecutive games and Head Coach Kevin Willard is talking about benching players and only playing six players for the rest of the season. Let the record show that the Pirates are in first place in the Big East with a 10-3 record, ranked 10th in the country and have an overall record of 18-7. 

“I’m not playing guys anymore,” Willard told reporters after his team lost to Providence on Saturday. “I’m going with six [players]. I’ve got a guy moody that doesn’t want to go through practice…  it’s not what should be happening right now.”

That’s what a winning program looks like, even when they are having a strong season, their head coach is still looking to make adjustments and get better. DePaul, on the other hand, is a prime example of a losing program that fails to adjust and make the necessary moves to get its season back on track. But Seton Hall has a coach that understands what his team needs to do in order to get better. The Blue Demons haven’t had that since George W. Bush was in office. 

DePaul’s once promising season was officially killed off by Creighton on Saturday. The remaining six regular-season games should be about finding out who’s the future of DePaul basketball, and that includes beginning the search for a new head coach. 

Barring a miracle run at Madison Square Garden in a couple weeks, there’s just nothing left to play for.