With a non-conference record of 7-4 and a current RPI (Ratings Power Index) of 18 (according to kenpom.com), DePaul Blue Demons coach Jerry Wainwright points out that if the season were to end today the Blue Demons would be playing in the postseason. "At least on paper, if there was a tournament today, we'd be in it," said Wainwright. "We haven't dodged anybody. I think that's a credit to the kids."
Now the season doesn't end today and there is a whole lot of basketball to be played yet. But, DePaul fans have to like where things stand right now compared to early in the season when there were losses to Bradley and Northern Illinois. "We were always confident," said DePaul junior Sammy Mejia. "Even though at the beginning of the season we struggled a little bit. We were always confident. We knew that the talent was there and the potential and ability was there. It was all a matter of timing. We needed time to get adjusted together, to gel as a team, to find some chemistry and to define the adjustments in who we are as a team. Once we found that, it shows that on any given night we can go and beat anybody."
The turning point of the non-conference season was the long four game road trip in December to Dayton, Wake Forest, Old Dominion, and California which resulted in three wins and one loss to ODU. "The road trip was tough on us," Mejia observed. "It was a four game road trip. It was exhausting and tiring. Luckily we had a few days off before the (Florida International) game. We've come back with fresh legs and our batteries charged up."
That road trip brought about togetherness and better team play. "The four game road trip brought us together," said sophomore Draelon Burns. "We were down in the Cal game in the last three minutes. That game right there showed us that we could come back on just about anybody and win."
The road trip was followed by a 10 day holiday break. The Demons shook off the rust from that break in Saturday's game against Florida International. "We're not getting our legs back over the break, because we got a lot of food in us," Burns remarked. "The last few days, we worked that off. We're still working a little bit off now. It was just like another Thanksgiving."
Wainwright reflected back on the non-conference stretch and is proud of his team's efforts. "Some people if they looked at our schedule, arguably, if we were 4-7 or 5-6, it would have been a wonderful conclusion to 11 games," Wainwright stated. "For us at this point in time to be 7-4, to have the strength of schedule and the RPI after a non-conference schedule that we do, I think speaks an awful lot of our players and their willingness to accept a new coach and a new style. There is no question that it's painful at times. I've tried to make it as unstructured as possible so that the kids can learn about how to play basketball and try to build some confidence."
So, now the Demons have ahead of them a 16 game schedule in the new 16 team Big East mega-conference. "The Big East is something that we all look forward to," Mejia said. "We've obviously got big games day in and day out. We're excited about the challenge. We're confident coming into the Big East that we're going to be a competitive team."
"Now we get into conference play," Wainwright stated. "Conference play is all about preparation. Everyone knows everything about everybody else. It's twisting and tweaking certain things. Really, what happens over the next couple of months is you don't practice as much because of the travel and the number of games that you have and the intensity of the games that you have."
On Wednesday night in Cincinnati, the ball will be thrown up at center court for the inaugural tip-off of Big East play for both teams. What happens is anybody's guess. One thing is for sure, DePaul comes into the game prepared after surviving the battles of the non-conference schedule.
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