DePaul fans ran into a numbers problem the last time they tried to rush the court. There were only 12 people in the student section. So after the Blue Demons had shocked No. 11 Providence and future top-five draft pick Kris Dunn, DePaul players did the next best thing: they jumped over a railing and celebrated with the few fans who had gone out to suburban Rosemont to see the win.
There would be no need for a reverse court-storming on Wednesday night. As DePaul held on in the final moments for a heart-stopping victory over Texas Tech, a real, tangible student section stormed the court in their new downtown arena and lifted hero Jalen Coleman-Lands in the air.
The Blue Demons are 9-0, and have a legitimate shot at their first NCAA tournament berth in 15 years.
This season has been a long-time coming for DePaul. What was once one of the country’s proudest programs in the late ‘70s and throughout the ‘80s had devolved into college basketball’s most lifeless sleeping giant. DePaul has finished dead last in the Big East in nine of the last 11 years, and were second-to-last the other two seasons. DePaul hasn’t been ranked since 2000-01. The team is only two years removed from consecutive seasons with single-digit wins. Attendance hit at an all-time low. The program continually missed on Chicago-area players in recruiting, only to watch them play in the NCAA tournament for other schools.
DePaul basketball didn’t just hit rock bottom, it made its home there. That’s why, despite having its most talented roster since the glory days of Quentin Richardson and Bobby Simmons, Chicago had to see DePaul actually win before it started to believe. Finally, it’s happening.
“We’re trying to exorcise the demons of the past,” head coach Dave Leitao said after beating Texas Tech.
Only 17 of the 353 schools in DI men’s basketball are undefeated, and DePaul is one of them. They have true road wins over Iowa, Minnesota, and Boston College. They just knocked off a Texas Tech that was ranked No. 12 in the country a week earlier and went to the national championship game last year.
It might finally be time to believe in DePaul basketball. This team is simply too talented to be dragged down by its own history.
DePaul has NBA talent in the front court
DePaul hasn’t had a player drafted since Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia in 2007. Before that, you have to go back to Simmons and Steven Hunter in 2001. DePaul has two players with real NBA aspirations this season, and its rise starts there.
Paul Reed committed to DePaul as a 6’5 wing out of Florida and the No. 235 prospect in his class three years ago. Now a junior, Reed has grown into a 6’10 big man with a skill set tailor made for modern basketball. ESPN has him as at No. 42 in their most recent mock draft, but there’s a real chance he crashes the first round.
Reed has a rare combination of quickness and length, with the ability to switch screens and contain ball handlers on the defensive end. He’s been one of college basketball’s great shot blockers, swatting eight shots against Minnesota and currently placing No. 18 in the country in block rate. Reed is also a tremendous rebounder who high-points the ball well over the rim at both ends. His offensive game is blossoming this season, as well. He runs the floor hard in transition for easy buckets, has finished well around the rim, and has canned 6-of-17 three-pointers (35 percent). Reed is also an 88 percent foul shooter.
While Reed has come out of nowhere to make his way onto NBA radars, Romeo Weems was always supposed to be good. Weems was named Mr. Basketball in Michigan as a senior and grew into a top-50 recruit on the strength of an impressive run with USA Basketball’s U17 World Cup team. At 6’7, 210 pounds, Weems is the perfect glue guy, a versatile defender, a smart cutter, a good passer, and a developing shooter. This backdoor cut gave DePaul the lead in overtime vs. Texas Tech.
Weems doesn’t put up big scoring numbers, so it’s hard to say if he’s a prospect for the 2020 draft or if he’ll need another year in school. Either way, Weems will one day be a pro because he’s the type of tenacious but selfless player every good team needs. DePaul is finally that.
DePaul has veteran guards who are good
The calculus of DePaul’s season changed when Charlie Moore was ruled eligible. Moore was Mr. Basketball in Illinois out of Chicago’s Morgan Park High School in 2016 where he grew into one of the city’s great prep players of this decade. After being ranked as a top-100 recruit, Moore started his college career at Cal, and once scored 38 points in a game as a freshman. He then transferred to Kansas, sitting out a season and struggling to crack the rotation last year.
Moore is back home in Chicago now and he’s found a program that desperately needs his talents. Though he’s only listed at 5’11 (and probably isn’t even that tall), Moore is a skilled facilitator and shooter who can create offense out of thin air. He’s currently top-20 in DI in assist rate and is shooting 40 percent from three. Moore hardly ever leaves the floor because DePaul is so dependent on his creation ability.
Then there’s Coleman-Lands, who suffered so many setbacks throughout his college career before finally getting his moments against the Red Raiders. Coleman-Lands was a top-40 recruit in the class of 2015 who started his college career out at Illinois. He dealt with a stress fracture in his left leg each of his first two seasons in Champaign, and broke his left hand in 2016. Coleman-Lands transferred to DePaul and continued to deal with leg issues. Then last year, just as he had finally gotten back on the court, he suffered a broken right hand that ended his season.
There might not be a player in college basketball who has had worse injury luck. But there was Coleman-Lands on Wednesday night, hitting three crucial daggers to give DePaul the win, including a bomb to tie the score in the closing seconds of regulation.
This is the player Illinois fans thought they were getting five years ago. Coleman-Lands is a knockdown shooter who can’t be left alone from anywhere on the court. If anyone deserves DePaul’s success this season, it’s him.
DePaul has a great chance of making the NCAA tournament
It’s been nearly two decades since DePaul was ranked, but the team received 18 votes in the last AP Poll before beating Texas Tech. If it defeats a solid Buffalo team this weekend, DePaul should finally find itself back in the top-25.
Leitao took the team to its last NCAA tournament berth in 2004 before accepting the Virginia job two years later, where he was eventually replaced by some guy named Tony Bennett. This is Leitao’s fifth season in his second stint at DePaul. It hasn’t been without controversy: Leitao was suspended the first three games of the season and the program was placed on three years of probation for an impermissible benefits scandal related to former player Levi Cook.
At this point, DePaul will take a winner any way they can get it. The team has real talent, and is already building a solid tournament resume. An at-large berth to the Big Dance doesn’t feel like a hallucination anymore. DePaul has been dreaming about this type of resurgence for 15 years. This season, it’s finally starting to feel real.