DePaul Blue Demon Basketball: Can They Survive in the Big East?

Ernest ShepardAnalyst IIIDecember 22, 2011

Bringing back that winning feeling.
Bringing back that winning feeling.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The DePaul Blue Demons men's basketball team are off to their best start in 12 seasons, going 9-3 after defeating Cal Poly 63-58.  

Blue Demons coach Oliver Purnell has his team going into the Big East schedule starting on January 1st with very little fanfare and a five-game winning streak. 

Much of the college basketball talk around the Chicago area has centered around the 11-1 Illinois Fightin' Illini.  And with Northwestern possibly heading to the NCAA tourney for first time in Wildcats' history, the school located in Lincoln Park has been an afterthought. 

Much of that has to do with their struggles in recent years. 

Their last tourney appearance was almost eight years ago.  Their last NIT berth was in 2007.  That's an eternity for most teams. 

The other reason for DePaul's obscurity has to do with recruitment woes. 

One would think that a university based in Chicago wouldn't have any problems recruiting players.  But DePaul does. 

The last player from DePaul to be drafted in the first round of the NBA was Wilson Chandler (by the New York Knicks in 2007). 

That doesn't bode well for a team vying for relevance.

Going 9-9 or 10-8 in the Big East would go a long way towards bringing the Blue Demons back to prominence. 

Super-sophomore Cleveland Melvin posting up.
Super-sophomore Cleveland Melvin posting up.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It won't be an easy task, as even the top teams struggle against the competition in such a loaded conference. 

Syracuse, the number one team in the nation, is first on the docket for DePaul. Good thing the game is at the Allstate Arena.  

DePaul has historically played the Orange tough, even in the down years.  A close loss will bring the Blue Demons some respect.  A win might just have them in the hunt for something bigger—dancing in March.

Again, it will be tough.  The Big East has six teams ranked in the Top 25 polls, including three in the Top 10.

Still, DePaul matches up well with some of them. 

Forward Cleveland Melvin and point guard Brandon Young are budding talents whose growth will strengthen the Blue Demons. 

Melvin leads the team in scoring (18.5 points) and is second in rebounding (6.5).  Young is the assist leader, averaging close to five a game, and is second in scoring (17.4). 

Promisingly, both players are only sophomores.  Neither is expected to enter the draft after the season. 

Sophomore Moses Morgan and freshmen Jamee Crockett and Charles McKinney are also standouts, contributing to the team in different areas.

The DePaul Blue Demons are young, athletic and on the rise. 

If they were playing in Conference USA or the Mid-American Conference, they would be a shoe-in for tournament contention. 

But they will have to face the likes of Pittsburgh after the Syracuse game, followed by Villanova and a tough Seton Hall team that is currently 10-1.  If they can split those games and go to 11-5, then their current momentum might be sustained. 

Can the DePaul Blue Demons survive the Big East?  Check back with me in three weeks.