Can DePaul Breakthrough in the Deep Big East?

After a tumultuous season in which the DePaul Blue Demons finished 11-19 (6-12 in the Big East) and failed to make the Big East tournament, there is only one way to go but up, right? But with the Big East so deep and talented, many coaches feel this may be the toughest conference ever, can the Demons ascend in the league and make some noise this year?

"We have to improve each night out," explained Wainwright on how DePaul must prepare for the rigors of the Big East in which as many as seven teams are in pre-season top 25 polls. "We can't have a game where everybody looks at us and says ‘we can get better that game'. I think if we do that, we'll win our share of games, I really do. Our goal has to be by mid-January to February, (if we're doing everything right), that team (DePaul) can beat anybody in this league on any given night."

Wainwright knows the challenges ahead and he knows making up ground won't be easy. Wainwright pointed out that DePaul, in the three years of the expanded Big East, has the tenth most wins in the conference. Not a great position by any stretch, but to demonstrate the depth and sheer competitiveness of this league, the team just ahead of them with the 9th most wins is a team in Syracuse, who just five years ago won the National Championship.

Wainwright wants to hold that ground and chip away and said if they can finish in the top half of the Big East, you can be a top 30 team. When Wainwright was an assistant at Wake Forest he saw the Demon Deacons rise from the cellar to one of the ACC's best teams. With patience and building he thinks it can be done at DePaul.

What worries Wainwright is if say DePaul finishes 10-8 in the conference will it be devalued because of the depth of the league? "The problem then is it puts an incredible burden on the non-conference schedule," explained Wainwright. Wainwright said that scheduling is all about confidence. Wainwright felt that if DePaul could have beaten Vanderbilt last season (a game lost at the foul line) their confidence could have carried over and possibly could have put them on a different course. He said two years ago when the team was 2-4 after a trip to Maui and beat Kansas their season headed down the right path. "The non-conference games must be approached like Big East games."

While the Big East is tough, Wainwright believes in his team. It may be a cliche term but Wainwright loves the chemistry of the team.

"I do think chemistry is really important," added Wainwright. "In order to have good practices, you have to compete in a way that you don't make it personal. You whip somebody and you compete as hard as you can against somebody, but then you enjoy their company off the court. I think we have a whole different chemistry and we're a whole lot faster and more athletic. I think we have had the best practices we've had since I've been at DePaul through the pre-season."

Every fan of DePaul pretty much knows what they are getting from three-fifths of the starting lineup in junior Will Walker (9.6 ppg) and uber talented sophomores Mac Koshwal (10.7 ppg and 8.4 rpg) and Dar Tucker (13 ppg). What Wainwright now wants from those three, especially from Walker being an elder statesman of the team, is leadership. Leadership is an attribute that Wainwright takes deep pride in.

"(Leadership) is the most important thing in sports right now and it's the hardest to find," said Wainwright.

The uncertainty lies with what kind of production can the DePaul faithful expect from the post and at the point guard positions.

Wainwright gushed over how improved senior Matija Poscic has been in practice. He said he is free of the injury bug that plagued him last season. He has put on 15 pounds of muscle and he expects good things from him in the post. Wainwright said someone has to emerge at the five whether it is Poscic, 6-11 freshman Krys Faber or 7-2 redshirt freshman Kene Obi, because it frees up Koshwal to comfortably settle in at the four.

"When Mac Koshwal has to play the five, we're not good," remarked Wainwright. He said that the experience Poscic brings to the table and the size of Faber and Obi can only help Koshwal grow into his role as power forward.

As for point guard play, Wainwright was none too committal in an answer. Wainwright said that DePaul is a "guard team" and that the point guard play will play itself out. Wainwright did say though that both true freshman Jeremiah Kelly and redshirt freshman Mike Bizoukas really look to pass to set up their teammates. Expect one of those two to emerge and take over the point guard duties. However, Wainwright does have capable ball handlers in Walker and senior Jabari Currie. So don't be surprised to see all four rotate bringing the ball up the floor as they can set up their teammates when needed.

Wainwright is trying to interchange five returning players in with a group of six freshmen (three being true freshman: Faber, Kelly and Devin Hill). He says the newcomers are really improving each day and that all six can make an impact.

It's obvious that Wainwright has confidence in his team but is taken back by the strength of the Big East. The Big East coaches predicted the Demons to finish 15th in the conference, but Wainwright shook off the notion it will serve as motivation.

"Our charge is not to worry about (projections and such)," concluded Wainwright. "I don't think we're caught up in anything other than trying to really improve. We're a really good young team, but the problem is there are a lot of really good old teams."

The one thing for certain is that DePaul will make the Big East Tournament this year, as the rule was changed to involve all 16 teams. Can this team make some noise and ascend up the Big East ladder in perhaps its best assembled formation ever? That will be a daunting task, but the Demons know the road ahead of them and it's time to put it to the test.

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