Column: DePaul’s defensive struggles show youth and inexperience in Big East play


Maddy Maes/The DePaulia

DePaul senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty looks to attack the basket.

DePaul men’s basketball started the year with a clean slate that included a new head coach in Tony Stubblefield and nine new players.  In comparison to last year, you can already see the improvements of the team. Although Covid ruined half of the team’s schedule, last season DePaul went 5-14 in the games they played. This year, they are currently 10-6 moving towards the halfway point of the season. However, the team is a young team with an Achillies heel that has haunted them, especially in the last few conference games: blown leads due to defense lapses.

With a team that is young and first-year head coach leading the way, there may be times where establishing a culture and identity would be a struggle. DePaul has predicated themselves on defense. Unfortunately that has been a struggle that is becoming a reality in conference play.

Recently, DePaul would get off to strong first halves and go into halftime with leads before coming out into the second half and losing the game. In last week’s conference game against No. 15 ranked Villanova University, they were up by five points heading into halftime. When they got back to the game, they ended up losing by 15. 

In their next conference game against Marquette University, they went into halftime down by one and took the lead in the first possession of the second half before they lost the lead and never recovered, ultimately losing the game by 11. In their last game against No. 20 ranked Seton Hall University, they were up by 17 and only won the game by four. 

The key in all of those loses or second half struggles is the inability to put 40 minutes of basketball together on both ends of the floor.

Offensively, the team has heavily relied on senior guard Javon Freeman-Liberty’s scoring ability to get them over the hump. Although he is the leading scorer in the Big East and a top 10 scorer in the NCAA with 21 points a game, the team needs someone else to step up, especially when Freeman-Liberty is struggling. 

“We have to get some more production inside,” Stubblefield said after Freeman-Liberty’s career night in a loss to Villanova. “[Javon] played a great game, but we cannot put it all on him. We got to have a second, third and fourth scoring option. Guys need to step up offensively. That is where we are going through some lapses of not having that scoring option.” 

Stubblefield did not give up faith. He stayed positive and has been open in getting better everyday and pushing his team to success on the court. During Stubblefield’s 2013-14 season as an assistant coach at the University of Oregon, the team lost five of its first six games in conference play before managing to finish third in the conference and participating in March Madness as a 7-seed. When asked what takeaways could he use to implement for this team moving forward, Stubblefield said it’s a matter of maintaining the right outlook. But the most important factor is getting that first win.

“You have to stay positive and connected and you can run off five or six wins, but you have to get that one win first,” he said. “That year [at Oregon] we lost some close games and some tough games, but you cannot give in.” 

The team finally got that first conference win and can now make a run in conference play. The team is currently allowing opponents to shoot 42 percent from the field and 34 percent from the 3-point line with a 72 points per game average. 

These next couple games will require aggressive play from their second leading scorer in David Jones (who currently averages 15 points a game), and a strong defensive presence for the duration of the game.

The Blue Demons play Xavier University on Wednesday, a team that is known for their discipline, especially on the defensive end, holding opponents to 40 percent shooting and 63 points a game. On Saturday, the team plays Creighton University, who holds opponents to 66 points a game and 39 percent shooting.  

With the uncertainty of Freeman-Liberty’s status due to his recent injury, others will have to step up on both ends of the floor in order to give the team a chance to compete.