Busting Brackets

NCAA Basketball: Louisville, DePaul, and SMU are rebuilding back to relevancy

Louisville Basketball coach Pat Kelsey speaks as he is introduced as the new head coach of UofL Mens’s Basketball on Thursday, March 28, 2024
Louisville Basketball coach Pat Kelsey speaks as he is introduced as the new head coach of UofL Mens’s Basketball on Thursday, March 28, 2024 / Michael Clevenger/Courier Journal / USA
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Chris Holtmann hopes to end DePaul's despair

I'm not sure there is a power-conference team that has languished at the bottom of its league more than the DePaul Blue Demons. Since joining the Big East in 2005-06 the program has gone through four coaches. Jerry Wainwright, Dave Leitao, Oliver Purnell, and Tony Stubblefield amassed one season above .500 and none of them were able to win more than seven conference games. In addition, the team has been to two NCAA tournaments since 1992 and hasn't won a game in the tournament since before its expansion to 64 teams, that being in 1984. With that in mind, the Blue Demons decided to move on from Stubblefield and made a strong hire by getting former Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann to head the program.

Like Louisville, Holtmann had to build a roster from scratch. He took advantage of the portal bringing in 11 new players to go along with two freshmen. Based on Holtmann’s history at Ohio State he likes to run a rotation that runs about seven deep but the work he has done in the portal may him to go even deeper with the Blue Demons.

Not only did he bring in six guards but he brought in plenty of guys with the ability to handle the ball. That group is headlined by Conor Enright who dished out 3.2 assists at Drake where Tucker DeVries was the dominant ballhandler in that offense. He also averaged just under seven points per game when there weren’t many shots available to him as the top four scorers took all but 536 shots in 2023-24, which is less than DeVries took on his own.

Jacob Meyer led Coastal Carolina in scoring with 15.7 points and assists with 2.6. The 6’2 guard shot 40% from beyond the arc, but the issue for Meyer last year was turnovers as he committed the exact number of turnovers per game as he had assists. Another name to watch is David Thomas who led Mercer in assists while only turning it over once per game. He also shot 40% from deep like Meyer and was second on the team in scoring with 11 per game. Lastly, Layden Blocker joins DePaul after one year at Arkansas where he saw limited minutes, but showed flashes, especially against Florida where he scored a season-high 14, and North Carolina in the ACC/SEC Challenge where he had 11.

A couple of off-guards are coming to Chicago as well. Isaiah Rivera had a big year for the Illinois-Chicago Flames, leading them in scoring with 15.4 points. He was also second on the team in rebounding with four, but what makes Rivera impactful is his ability to score at all three levels. He led the Flames in three-point attempts, making 41.6% and free throws shooting 77% from the stripe. CJ Gunn is another guy who could benefit from a change of scenery. After two years at Indiana where he averaged just 10 minutes per game, the 6’6 guard with loads of athleticism hopes he’ll be able to show more of what he is capable of with the Blue Demons.

Holtmann once again went back to the Missouri Valley for some help in the frontcourt after already grabbing Enright and Rivera. Troy D’Amico is a 6’7 small forward who is another guy who is comfortable with the ball in his hands. At Southern Illinois, he was second on the team in both scoring (9.3) and assists (2.6) on a team where Xavier Johnson made over 200 field goals and no other player made more than 99. N. J. Benson is another interesting guy to keep an eye on. He netted 8.6 points and a team-high 7.9 rebounds for Missouri State last season. But what makes him interesting is that it looks like he was coming into his own at the end of the year with six double-doubles in his last eight games, including two in the MVC Tournament.

JJ Traynor comes to DePaul as part of the exodus after the coaching change in Louisville. Traynor only appeared in eight games for the Cardinals, scoring 10 points per game. Patrick Suemnick is another 6’8 forward who was perhaps underutilized at West Virginia seeing just 14 minutes per game adding four points and 2.6 rebounds. He is capable of much bigger things as he showed in two January wins over Kansas and Texas where he averaged 18 points and six boards. Blue Demons’ fans should be excited about David Skogman who is a 6’10 stretch five who was leading Davidson in both scoring, rebounding and shooting 47% from deep on 68 attempts before his season was ended after 17 games with a foot injury.

DePaul isn’t ready to challenge UConn for Big East supremacy, but given its history over the last 20-25 years, Holtmann is ready to start turning around the basketball fortunes of the Blue Demons in his first season in Chicago.