Let’s Start With a Little History Between These Coaches…
March 2, 2005 was a big night of truth for the DePaul Blue Demons. Firmly on the bubble, DePaul traveled to Birmingham to take on the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers. The winner of the game would have the upper hand going into the Conference USA tournament and, mostly likely, move up and off the NCAA tournament bubble.
The coaches that night were Dave Leitao, in his final year of his first term at DePaul, and St. John’s Mike Anderson, who was in his 3rd year at UAB after several years as Nolan Richardson’s top assistant at Arkansas. Anderson brought with him Richardson’s famed “40 Minutes of Hell” defense and fast paced, three point shooting and layup lined offense.
This Blue Demon team was one of the last good teams that DePaul has had. Lead by Drake Deiner, Sammy Mejia, and Quemont Greer, the Demons came into the game 18-7 with a 10-4 record in conference. A victory would seal a first round bye in the conference tournament and get them closer to being in the NCAA Tournament. UAB came into the game 8-6 with a need to win their last two games to get the important bye.
The game went back and forth. The Demons were up 2 at the half, and took their largest lead of 8 in the second half. Then the pace and the pressure took its toll on DePaul. UAB tied the game late sending it to overtime. In overtime, UAB hit a 3 pointer with 24 seconds left. DePaul set up Diener for a 3 pointer, which he missed. DePaul rebounded and set up another 3 point shot. Ultimately hitting a 2 pointer shot with a second left losing by a single point. DePaul lost their regular season finale to Louisville and UAB won theirs to secure the 4th seed and 1st round bye in the C-USA tournament.
8 days later, after DePaul won their first round game against Tulane, the Demons once again faced UAB in the quarterfinals. The winner would go to the NCAA tournament and the loser would go to the NIT.
Another back and forth game with DePaul going up by 10 with a little under 10 minutes left in the game. The frenetic UAB defense chipped away at the lead, and with 1:28 UAB hit a 3 pointer to gain their first lead of the game. Mejia scored a game tying free-throw. DePaul got a defensive stop and got the ball to Drake Diener with the hope that he would get fouled and be the iceman that he was. Under intense pressure, UAB forced Diener into a walk. UAB then made a 3 pointer leaving .7 seconds on the clock and DePaul lost. Two brutal losses, in which DePaul had the lead with less than 2 minutes to go in both game.
UAB lost to an excellent, Final Four Louisville team in the next round but was selected to the NCAA tournament the next day. The Blazers won their 1st round game, before being knocked out by the Arizona team that almost knocked Illinois out of the tournament at Allstate Arena.
Meanwhile, DePaul was selected to the NIT, where they beat Mizzou but lost to Texas A&M. Dave Leitao left for Virginia, and a year later, Mike Anderson left for Mizzou.
Why did I write all of this up other than to remember all of the pain? To explain the 40 minutes of Hell. Generally, it starts out with some aggressive touching. The refs decide how much touching they will allow. Usually at first, it is very little, but as the game goes on, the refs get numb to the reaching and slapping, and next thing you know, you have Drake Diener ‘traveling’, instead of what would have been a foul in the first 5 minutes of the game.
This St. John’s team’s personnel isn’t perfect yet for the ultimate version of Anderson’s philosophy, but they will harass the hell out of you.
DePaul travels to New York to take on St. John’s on January 11, 2020 at 11AM Central in Madison Square Garden. Very early game for the Men in Blue. The game is on UToo, channel 230 on Comcast.
This will be the first in conference meeting between Dave Leitao and Mike Anderson since the 2 battles in 2005.
DePaul swept the Red Storm last year.
DePaul has shot 5-21 from 3 point land in both Big East Games this season. Jalen Coleman-Lands has been in a mini-slump, going 1-7 in each of the games. He is turning into a bell-weather. As he goes, the Demons go.
Conversely, on the defensive side of the ball, the Blue Demons’ opponents have shot 35% and 40% from behind the arch, which would be the 3rd and 2nd worst defensive performances by the team.
As Coach Leitao said in his last podcast about the NBA, the team that makes the most 3s generally wins, and that has been totally true in the beginning of conference play.
Tale of the Tape
Both teams are excellent at offensive rebounds and below average at defensive rebounds. St. John’s is horrific at 3 point shooting and 2 point shooting, while excellent at protecting the ball and getting steals. The Red Storm is 5th in the country at generating steals, while DePaul is 9th. Both teams cause tons of turnovers, but DePaul gives up turnovers much easier than the Johnnies.
The only way that St. John’s sticks around is by taking more shots than their opponents due to generating more steals and not turning it over. In their frenzy, they get a high percentage of offensive rebounds which leads to additional chances.
The Red Storm substitute frequently. In most games 6 to 7 guys will play at least 20 minutes, and 9 guys will play at least 10 minutes. They try to wear you down. They have the 19th fastest tempo in the country.
Who Can Hurt the Demons?
Figueroa, 6’6″ Junior Small Forward, owns the Johnnies highest usage rate. He shoots 36.6% from 3 point land, which is the best on the team. He will be guarded by Romeo Weems.
6’6″ Sophomore swing man causes turnovers and gets offensive rebounds. He is strictly a close range shooter.
6’8″ Freshman big man, Champagnie, is second on the team in minutes behind Figueroa. He has a 107 offensive rating.
When he plays, this 6’9″, bad-ass, Sophomore Center has the highest offensive rating on the team at 122.7. He gets most of his points in the paint and grabs a ton of offensive rebounds.
What is Going to Happen on Saturday?
Will Jaylen Butz be back from injury? It looked like he twisted his ankle against Providence, but maybe it was something worse. St. John’s is not a super tall team, but matches up quite well with the Demons. With their frenetic style, they play a lot of dudes. Their main starters go, 6’3″, 6’5″, 6’6″, 6’8″, and 6’9″. If Butz is available, it will be almost perfect match-ups across the board, other than Charlie Moore given up a few inches.
The biggest issue is depth. St. John’s plays nine guys rotating them constantly as they match-up for the entire length of the court. The Blue Demons play 5 guys a ton and one of the 5 might not be available. Guys like Markese Jacobs and Nick Ongenda may have to step up to give Charlie Moore, Paul Reed, Jalen Coleman-Lands, Romeo Weems, Darious Hall, and Devin Gage breathers.
If DePaul’s guards can be calm on the ball on offense, and the Blue Demons can shoot their season percentage from 3-point land, the Men in Blue will prevail. The lack of depth worries me. I can see the Demons leading the entire game, like the games back in 2005 only to fall apart in the final two minutes.
Go Blue Demons! We need this one badly.