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updated: 1/15/2014 11:18 PM

DePaul hoops worth watching again?

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  • DePaul players celebrate after defeating beating Butler in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Indianapolis. DePaul won 99-94 in double overtime.

      DePaul players celebrate after defeating beating Butler in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Indianapolis. DePaul won 99-94 in double overtime.
    Associated Press

  • Butler guard Kellen Dunham has his shot blocked by DePaul center Tommy Hamilton IV during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Indianapolis. DePaul won 99-94 in double overtime.

      Butler guard Kellen Dunham has his shot blocked by DePaul center Tommy Hamilton IV during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Indianapolis. DePaul won 99-94 in double overtime.
    Associated Press

  • DePaul forward Cleveland Melvin dunks the ball against Butler during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Indianapolis. DePaul won 99-94 in double overtime.

      DePaul forward Cleveland Melvin dunks the ball against Butler during an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014, in Indianapolis. DePaul won 99-94 in double overtime.
    Associated Press

 
 

DePaul basketball just might be worth watching again.

You remember DePaul basketball, don't you? Legendary head coach Ray Meyer, George Mikan, Dave Corzine, Mark Aguirre, Quentin Richardson, 1979 Final Four.

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Lately DePaul has devolved into an afterthought. However, the Blue Demons currently have a faint pulse after a 2-point victory over St. John's on Tuesday night and last week's double-overtime victory over Butler.

Don't blow up the balloons yet. Don't let the confetti out of the bag. Keep the floats in the garage.

For one thing, 2 straight Big East victories are no reason to parade around town even if DePaul hadn't accomplished the feat since 2008.

For another thing, Butler isn't the Butler that finished second in consecutive NCAA Tournaments and St. John's isn't the St. John's that once was a perennial power.

For a final thing, DePaul occasionally teased the local basketball community the past couple decades only to fire and fall back.

So this successful week that DePaul has enjoyed essentially is a cheap thrill. But even if few fans noticed, 2 victories are something special in a land of nothing.

To me, the Blue Demons always represent hope for college hoops around here. Not Northwestern, not Loyola, not UIC, not Chicago State.

Surely that assessment will outrage fans of those other schools but with few exceptions that's how it has been since the 1970s.

New coach Chris Collins does pump optimism into NU. Loyola, the only program in the state to win an NCAA title, did make a nice move up to the Missouri Valley Conference. The others, well, it's difficult to figure out what they're doing.

But DePaul always has had higher aspirations: A move into the 17,500-seat Rosemont Horizon in 1980; joining the powerful Big East in 2005; currently planning a new arena near McCormick Place; oh yeah, and the little matter of ambition running amok when the Demons had to vacate NCAA Tournament appearances in the late 1980s for rules violations.

Overall, DePaul wants to be good in basketball, compete at the highest level and wake the echoes of past periods of glory.

Are the Demons there? No, not now. Not yet. Not close. Not judging by their struggles since joining the original Big East.

College conferences being fluid, I had to look up to see who is in the remodeled Big East this season. It turns out there are seven carry-over programs -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova -- along with newcomers Butler, Creighton and Xavier.

The conference's big-time football schools are gone and the new configuration is a better fit for the Demons. There are memories of the days when Ray Meyer matched coaching wits against the likes of Villanova's Rollie Massimino, Georgetown's John Thompson, St. John's Louie Carnesecca and Marquette's Al McGuire.

Now if only the Blue Demons can become competitive again and perhaps better than that. The current team is at least interesting with a couple Baltimore seniors -- Cleveland Melvin and Brandon Young -- blending with a couple Chicago freshmen, Billy Garrett Jr. and Tommy Hamilton IV.

A modest two-game winning streak is encouraging for Oliver Purnell, who has been on national lists of head coaches that are overpaid and on the hot seat.

Purnell's record at DePaul is 40-72 and 8-53 in the Big East. The eye test indicates the numbers aren't lying.

For now, though, the Demons are at least watchable to the point that Saturday's game at No. 6 Villanova is worth checking out.

That'll be the next indication of whether DePaul is improving or simply teasing again.

mimrem@dailyherald.com

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