For what may be the final time this basketball season (we'll look into doing a 5 questions before the Big East conference tournament game, but that would be one fast turnaround), this blog will exchange questions with John from Chicago Now's Chicago College Basketball blog.
Both the DePaul Blue Demons and the St. John's Red Storm have clinched their bottom-4 status, and will play on the first day of the tournament next week against one of the next 4 teams ( some combination of South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Seton Hall, or Notre Dame).
But for now, the questions in advance of tomorrow's contest at the Allstate Arena. Thanks to John for the fast and thorough responses, and check out my responses to his questions as well. Now, about that Blue Demons team...
1- How has the team been since Jerry Wainwright's firing? Are they playing better, deploying personnel better?
The results might not suggest it - since there has been only one win - but I think so. Jerry Wainwright seemed to box guys into roles on a team. Tracy Webster appears to trust the more talented players on the roster. They have played better. Agonizingly close losses in the Big East are becoming a commonplace thing for the Blue Demons. The other disturbing trend is that they seem to be giving up a lot of halftime leads.
This seems to be a case where Webster is preparing his team to play well and giving a good game plan, but there are problems adjusting. When the other coach makes an adjustment then Webster doesn't seem to react. Of course, his limited personnel sort of handcuffs him here, but it's a curious trend to say the least.
The other thing that seems to have happened is that DePaul has more energy on the defensive end since Webster took over. The Blue Demons allowed 99 points at Villanova in Wainwright's final game. Since then the most anyone has scored is 87 in a loss on January 23rd to Notre Dame. The Blue Demons have been consistently been playing games in the high-60's to low 70's. Though to win consistently with this talent that number would've had to have been even lower.
2- What does the team do relatively well? How could they pull out a win against St. John's?
The key here is "relatively." DePaul does very few things well. The one thing they do on offense is that they don't turn the ball over. The Blue Demons are 30th according to Pomeroy in offensive turnover percentage. They're not going to give away possessions, and quite honestly they can't afford to. I'll talk more about him in the answer to your next question, but Mac Koshwal is this team's best asset. He's been on fire lately. St. John's will have to contain him.
Also, this team is relatively better on defense than offense. That's partly because the offense, in a word, is atrocious. DePaul gives up too many offensive rebounds on defense - sometimes at the most inopportune times, but other than that they can hold their own on defense when the weather was there. It strikes me that this could be a very low scoring game since St. John's relies on it's defense to win games as well.
3- Give me a rundown on the impact players (or the starting lineup and key reserves). Have any players emerged as cornerstones for the future?
C Krys Faber - A very raw sophomore there appears to be some potential here, but Faber commits too many fouls and doesn't really do anything on offense. He's a big body that's willing to bang, but he's not particularly effective at anything right now.
F Mac Koshwal - This is DePaul's best player. He missed part of the season, but he's been on a tear as of late. The 6'11" front court player is a guy you have to account for. He uses a lot of possessions. He also rebounds very well.
F Mike Stovall - I personally think that Stovall is a shooting guard miscast as a small forward, but this is where the junior plays. He's 6'5" and shoots a lot. He's not a particularly good shooter. He's streaky. He carried DePaul to their victory over Marquette with hot shooting down the stretch.
G Michael Bizoukas - Bizoukas and Jeremiah Kelly split time at the lead guard position and neither is particularly effective. Bizoukas is a little bit better at getting to the basket. Kelly is a little bit better on the defensive end in terms of harassing ball handlers full-court.
G Will Walker - Friday will be Walker's final home game in a DePaul uniform. He is the do everything guy for the Blue Demons. His numbers aren't great this season because everyone knows he is shooting when he gets the basketball. Also, Walker plays a ton of minutes. He is 4th in the nation in percentage of minutes played.
Reserves: The DePaul bench is pretty thin. Devin Hill is a long forward that blocks shots, but like to hang out around the perimeter on offense. One of the point guards will come off the bench. Also, Tony Freeland is the team's lone scholarship freshman. He commits a lot of fouls, but he has good energy off the bench.
4- Obviously, more of the news around the losing team is the coaching search. Who do you think are the leaders? And will the new coach have to keep on all of the assistant coaches?
The rumors fly like crazy about who is going to be the next coach at DePaul. It's really hard to read through all the tea leaves and there must by 15-20 candidates by now. People it won't be: Craig Robinson, Oregon State; Isiah Thomas, FIU (Knicks, etc.) and probably not someone old. My guess is that someone like Brad Stevens of Butler or Brian Gregory of Dayton is the first call, but they might not be able to get someone of that caliber. An interesting name that came up in a recent tweet by Seth Davis was Tony Barbee of UTEP. I'd settle for that.
Speaking of national analysts. FOX's Jeff Goodman suggested that the new coach will have to retain the assistants. I've been told this is a loyalty and recruiting thing, so I'm not going to get up in arms about it. Still, it seems a bit odd. Wouldn't a new coach want to bring his own staff?
5- How will the roster shake out next year? Are any players rumored to transfer? Who are the new recruits?
Well, Walker is the only player that is definitely going to be gone. Beyond that it's anyone's guess. A lot of players have seen time this season, but two contributors - Nate Rogers and Ryan Siggins aren't scholarship players. I don't think there are going to be a lot of transfers. One thing about DePaul and especially Jerry Wainwright is that they tend to recruit high-character guys. They stick it out through tough times. I have to say I admire athletes like Walker and Koshwal that do that.
DePaul has three recruits coming in. Moses Morgan is the #28 small forward in the country according to Scouts Inc. He's from Nevada. Brandon Young is a similarly rated point guard from the Washington, D.C. area. Some people seem to be very high on him. Then there is Walter Pitchford. He is a little more raw, but he is 6'8" and this team could desperately need some more skilled size. None of these players are elite recruits, but they are all good.
Bonus Question - What do you think the Blue Demons will look like in 3 years - not in terms of personnel, but in terms of their competitiveness in the Big East?
Projecting that far out is tough. But I know this: It is going to be a very young team. Hopefully it will be an NCAA Bubble contender that will more than likely be headed for the NIT. It would be great if by then the university had put in plans to build an on-campus arena. It could happen if a new coach asks for it.
In three years the new coach should be in the up-cycle finally. But it might be the first year of that cycle. This isn't going to be a team that gets a quick fix and immediately becomes competitive again. DePaul's glory days were a long time ago. Yes there is talent in Chicago, but it is going to take time to convince those players to stick around and it is going to take a national recruiter anyways to compete in the Big East. Still, this is one of the best cities in the world to live in and play basketball. Chicago loves a winner - or even a team that tantalizes from time to time (see the Cubs). DePaul can be that team again.