Illinois (2-0) vs. DePaul (1-1)
7:30 PM at State Farm Center
TV: Big Ten Network
The last 5 years in KenPom ratings: 174, 183, 150, 183, 183.
DePaul is nothing if not consistent.
There was a time when the Blue Demons were a feared bunch, a Chicago powerhouse. However, it has been 13 years since DePaul last went dancing, and 11 since the last time the team won 20 games. In the last decade, DePaul has tallied single-digit win totals 50% of the time, and never in that span have they won more than 12 games.
The Blue Demons could be entering a brave new world, however. This year they open their brand new stadium in downtown Chicago and, through continuity, coach Dave Leitao’s charges are showing talent and ability.
Building a roster around JuCo kids and transfers is a solid strategy for mid-majors (e.g., Illinois State), and Leitao has found some gems in Tre’Darius McCallum (12.5 ppg and 8.7 rpg last year) and Max Strus. Eli Cain also looks like a stud, averaging double figures scoring each of his first two seasons. After 2 games, it’s hard to say if DePaul has really turned a corner or is still building, but by the eye test they appear to be a greater challenge than Southern or UT-Martin.
Perhaps a by-product of the new defense, Illinois has allowed too many easy layups so far: opponents are shooting 76% at the rim so far this season. This could work in the Blue Demons favor, as they have particularly lived inside the arc this season, taking 44% of shots at the rim compared to just 30% behind the three-point line.
DePaul has decent height, which will challenge the smaller, guard-heavy Illini. But, if Illinois matches up well and plays a complete game, getting to 3-0 is not out of reach. It will likely be more of a task than they’ve come up against thus far, though.
Photo by Mike Pauza