The Jerry Wainwright era is over in Chicago, and the Oliver Purnell experiment (wait, wasn’t the Oliver Purnell Experiment the name of a 1970’s British prog-rock band?) is underway. As well-liked as Wainwright was, his tenure at DePaul was an outright failure, a 59-80 overall record, one winning season, one NIT appearance, and a backwards slide to a total of 16 wins over the last two years combined. So the program needed some new blood and some excitement, and Purnell brings that with his up-temp pressure-based style, that he most recently had success with at Clemson. However, despite Purnell’s three straight NCAA Tournament bids, six straight post-season tournament bids, and six straight non-losing seasons, there is a little bit of a blemish on that record: three straight NCAA Tournament first-round losses and a reputation for his team to play its best basketball in December and January, rather than in March. All that considered, Blue Demon fans would take a first-round tournament loss over the past five years without hesitation.

But, while the coaching change brings some excitement to the program, the roster is more or less a disaster, with the Blue Demons two leading scorers headed for greener pastures: Will Walker graduating and Mac Koshwal becoming the second talented Demon in two years to make the somewhat questionable decision to declare early for the NBA draft. To make matters worse, 6-10 freshman recruit Walter Pitchford has asked for his release from his signed letter of intent, although as of today, that release has not been granted. What remains is a rag-tag group of returnees, two other Wainwright recruits and the first of Purnell’s recruits.

Incumbent point guard Jeremiah Kelly is the guy with the most tangible claim on a starting spot, and as a result, probably the guy with the most pressure on him, but he is a limited player. He takes care of the ball, but doesn’t create a whole lot either for himself or for his teammates. Best case scenario for the Blue Demons: incoming freshman Brandon Young overtakes Kelly for the starting spot; Young is a tenacious defender with a versatile offensive game. Senior Michael Bizoukas is also in the mix at the point, but despite his hard-work and scrappiness, he doesn’t really have Big East athleticism. He could get spot minutes at either guard spot, however, just on his shooting ability alone.

The Demons are most talented at the wings, with guys like Eric Wallace, Tony Freeland, Mike Stovall, Devin Hill, and incoming freshman Moses Morgan all in the mix there. It is anybody’s guess who will get the starting spots out of these guys at the two or the three (all four of the returnees got at least seven starts last season, but none started more than 20 games), but this is a decent group of athletic guys who could fit in well in Purnell’s system.

Up front, DePaul will certainly miss Koshwal, but a few players remain. 6-11 junior center Krys Faber will likely take over in the post and he is a fairly athletic shot-blocker, but he’ll need to improve his offensive game.  Kene Obi, a 7-2 junior, may get some minutes in relief of Faber, but it is possible that Pitchford will take those minutes if he winds up at DePaul after all. Pitchford is a raw athlete with little game outside of the paint, but some definite upside. At the four spot, Purnell brought in his first recruit, Cleveland Melvin, who once committed to Connecticut but withdrew. Melvin is a very good athlete who is good in the open floor and good on the glass, but with very little approaching an offensive game elsewhere; he may, however, shine in Purnell’s system. If Melvin can’t claim the four spot, it is possible that DePaul goes small and one of the wings takes over the four, perhaps Hill, whose 6-9 frame can fill the slot pretty well.

While it will take Purnell some time to turn things around in Chicago, he can take comfort in the fact that there is at least some talent here, and the incoming recruiting class has plenty of promise. And, while there isn’t a lot of offensive polish up and down the roster, it is possible the Blue Demons can manufacture some offense through the artful application of Purnell’s press. Certainly DePaul is not ready for prime-time quite yet, but they could be there earlier than most rightfully expect.

 


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