Commentary: If DePaul men’s basketball wants a tournament run, they must lock down

It’s been a rough start to head coach Oliver Purnell’s tenure at DePaul and 2013 marks a very important season to start seeing improvement.

While his 30-64 overall record isn’t truly awful, the stat that really stands out is the team’s mark in conference games: 6-50, for a .107 winning percentage. One of the biggest problems DePaul has faced is the lack of consistent defense.

No one doubts the Blue Demons’ ability to score. Cleveland Melvin, Brandon Young, and a deep bench will ensure the squad scores 70 to 75 points per night. The real issue is stopping the opposition. When Purnell came to Chicago from his post at Clemson three years ago, he brought with him a full-court press philosophy that based its success on forcing turnovers and scoring points on the fast break.

While DePaul has generally done a good job forcing turnovers, they’ve done a rather horrendous job of recovering on defense if the opposing team breaks the press. This leads to easy baskets for the opponent and makes it difficult for a team of any caliber to win.

DePaul lost numerous close games in 2012: 73-72 against Seton Hall, 79-74 in overtime against St. John’s, and a pair of gut-wrenching overtime losses to Notre Dame by a combined 12 points. It can be argued that those games could have been won if DePaul had played proper defense.

This season should be different. For the first time since Purnell has taken the reins, the Blue Demons have legitimate size and can get creative with how they play defense. One strategy would be moving 6-foot-8 Cleveland Melvin to the wing to add perimeter defense and using a bigger player, such as 6-foot-10, 255-pound Sandi Marcius as a stopgap on the block.

“The size we have will allow us to move Cleveland (Melvin) to the wing. When we go to some zone defense, it will make for a big zone and a long zone,” Purnell said.

It comes down to teamwork as well. Purnell arrived preaching running and defense, but the physical piece of the puzzle is missing. If DePaul truly wants to make a run to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2004, all the players will have to buy in to making the effort on defense every night.

The added size will aid their cause, but execution is the key. If the full-court press works as it should, DePaul could contend. If the Blue Demons fail to consistently follow through, it will be another long year.