DePaul still has a long way to go before being able to compete with the Big East’s best teams


Eric Henry

DePaul still has a long way to go before being able to compete with the Big East’s best teams.

DePaul’s win over Marquette on Jan. 23 was supposed to be a springboard towards more success in the Big East. 

The Blue Demons showed in that game they can win close games, play elite defense and execute offensively down the stretch. That game should have provided the team with confidence to go on and start winning more conference games.

Instead, DePaul fell back to earth in its next two games against St. John’s and Creighton, showing they still have a long way to go before they can be taken seriously in the Big East.

Both games against St. John’s and Creighton were losses at home this past week, with the Blue Demons now sitting all alone in last place. Even head coach Dave Leitao viewed the win over Marquette as a chance for his team to build some momentum.

“I thought post-Saturday’s game that we could build off of some of that momentum in key areas,” Leitao said after the 81-68 loss to St. John’s. “As I’ve said before, we’ve got to be able to hang our hat on defending and rebounding and playing as hard as we can.” 

There was none of that in the deflating loss to the Red Storm on Wednesday. It was a chance for DePaul to crawl back within a win of St. John’s, instead the Blue Demons again got outplayed at home. 

DePaul gave up 49 points in the first half after only allowing 61 against Marquette. The offense was also inconsistent, going through hot and cold stretches — a staple during Leitao’s six-year tenure. 

The loss to St. John’s was a missed opportunity for DePaul for plenty of reasons, but mainly because the next game against No. 17 Creighton on Saturday wasn’t a matchup that has bode well for the Blue Demons in the past. 

DePaul came into Saturday’s game riding an 11-game losing streak to the Bluejays, with the average margin of defeat sitting just above 17 points per game. And the test got even tougher when leading scorer Charlie Moore was ruled out because of a right elbow injury.

Still, the Blue Demons outplayed Creighton for 37 minutes, limiting their high-octane offense to only 59 points and holding a one-point lead with three minutes to play in the game. But that’s when everything began to unravel for DePaul, and those late-game issues started to rear its ugly head. 

Creighton finished the game on a 10-2 run and walked out of Wintrust Arena with a 69-62 victory. But this was a game that DePaul had and should have won considering how well they played for most of it, especially on the defensive end. They limited a team who was averaging 81 points per game to only 69, and held them to only 27.3 percent shooting from the 3-point line.

With all of those numbers in DePaul’s favor and senior guard Ray Salnave having his best game in a Blue Demon uniform with 21 points, it should have been the night that Leitao’s team broke its 11-game losing streak to Creighton. 

DePaul has now, however, lost 12 straight games against the Bluejays and 20 straight games against Villanova. To put those losing streaks in perspective, DePaul has been entering Big East play for several years now with 20 percent of its games guaranteed ending in losses. 

“That is something that we have to get better at in our late game execution and our understanding how to get quality stops, and especially those under four-minute games that you got to win,” Leitao said. 

For six seasons under Leitao, none of these late-game issues have ever been solved, and the likelihood is they never will be. Even as DePaul has seen an uptick in talent over the years, there has still been no improvements in the record and the style of play. 

“Details, execution — that is what beat us tonight,” Salnave said after Saturday’s game. “Creighton played a great game. We played a great game. But like I said, it came down to the details in the end and we have got to do a better job execution and capitalizing on opportunities.”

It’s nice to identify what the reason is as to why you are losing these games, but it’s another thing to go out and fix those problems. Creighton twice this past week came from behind to win two roads, showing they have the grit and toughness to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

DePaul, on the other hand, is now 3-7 overall and 1-7 in the Big East, putting them as the clear favorites to finish in last place for the fifth consecutive season. 

The Blue Demons can talk about the improvements they need to make, but they have been saying that for six years. 

It hasn’t worked in the previous five, and it most likely won’t work now.