DePaul has a habit of kicking it in gear in the second half, as the team has outscored its opponents 481-398 in the second stanza of games. In games against Missouri State, Drake and Southeast Missouri State, the Blue Demons showed a lot of resiliency and moxie to come from behind and avert disaster.
Conversely, DePaul has fallen behind 374-352 in the first half of games.
While the intestinal fortitude in the second half is something to be proud of if you are DePaul head coach Dave Leitao, he can't be happy about how his team got in the early holes they have dug for themselves. The lack of focus, especially effort given on defense, has allowed DePaul to fall behind the eight ball way too often.
DePaul, who is now 7-4 heading into this week's Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic, has now trailed at halftime in six of its 11 games. The Blue Demons often times come out lethargic, uninspired and not ready to play out of the gate. (See games against Rutgers, Northwestern and Temple.)
Their first-half effort is alarming, no matter how you dissect it. If the Blue Demons want to show some real, tangible progress, they can't let this become a trend or they won't even begin to sniff mounting any second-half rallies once Big East play begins.
With Leitao working in six new pieces, and getting reliable production from basically two holdovers (Billy Garrett Jr. and Eli Cain), he is clearly working a lot of moving parts. He is mixing and matching a lot of players and looking for the right combinations to succeed.
It has naturally led to some instability and its a process time will eventually heal.
Leitao is trying to implement a mindset of playing good defense which then leads to cohesive offense. When DePaul makes critical lapses on defense, it far too often affects offense, as many players go isolation mode and play with an individualistic mentality.
However, in the last two wins for DePaul—which included a 48 point win over Chicago State— the Demons have been committed to spreading the ball around and sharing the basketball. They posted back-to-back 20+ assist games in the wins over Chicago State and Southeast Missouri State. According to DePaul sports information, it marks the first back-to-back games with 20 or more assists since the 2006-07 season (DePaul's last winning season). A year ago, DePaul totaled 20 assists just once during the season.
"I'm proud of the guys getting 20 assists on 28 baskets,” Leitao said after the win over Southeast Missouri State. “That's the second game in a row we've had 20 or more assists. They are learning and sharing. Another comeback win tells me we have something in that locker room that's pretty good."
In the spirit of the holidays, sharing is caring. If DePaul can keep sharing the ball and get better on defense, maybe Leitao and the Demons can produce the momentum it has been so desperately seeking.
That said, DePaul can't be just a second-half team. It has to show consistent effort for 40 minutes or else the hole they have dug for themselves will become deeper and eventually too deep to climb out of.
The Big East, with four top 20 teams (Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler), will be unforgiving and if DePaul doesn't come prepared and ready to play for a full 40 minutes then any positive momentum they got from their come-from behind wins will fall by the wayside.
Again, the comebacks have revealed character but the flaws that got them in the hole have to be corrected if DePaul truly wants to move in the right direction.