Postseason hoop dreams

By Etheria Modacure

DePaul University, Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Chicago men’s basketball teams have been in dire need of help for the past few seasons and beyond. UIC and DePaul are in the process of rebuilding their programs, and Loyola is  looking to field a healthy and competitive team for this season.

For the DePaul Blue Demons, it has been a rough few years in Big East conference play. The UIC Flames and Loyola Ramblers haven’t fared well either in the Horizon League: The Flames haven’t won the conference championship since 2004.

The Ramblers haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1985 and haven’t posted a season of more than 20 wins since the 2006–2007 season. The Blue Demons haven’t seen the NCAA tournament

since 2004.

The Blue Demons went 1-15 in Big East conference play in the 2009–2010 season under former head coach Jerry Wainwright.

As all three programs started the 2010–2011 basketball season, a renewed focus on the court has been set with the players and a new culture is beginning to build in one of the three programs.

On April 6, Oliver Purnell was named the  Blue Demons’ new head coach. Purnell recently coached for the Tigers at Clemson University and led the team to three NCAA tournament appearances.

Purnell said he feels he has the chance to do something special at DePaul because of  his coaching experience in the NCAA tournament.

“It’s a challenge. It’ll be [another] opportunity [I get] to turn a program around,” Purnell said on Sept. 15 at the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame. “I kind of discovered I like doing that,and I get excited about it.”

The Blue Demons’ best season in the Big East came in the 2006–2007 when they won nine games in the conference and 20 games overall.

DePaul lacked consistent rebounding in their 69-64 loss to the Western Carolina University Catamounts on Nov. 16 at the Allstate Arena. The Blue Demons were outrebounded 48-34.

Purnell said rebounding was a problem for the program in the past and this year in their preseason games and earlier contests.

“A lot of focus [is needed] on blocking out and not a focus of five guys have to rebound every time,” Purnell said.

For the Ramblers, rebounding hasn’t been an issue in their first four games because they won each game while outrebounding their opponents 145-118.

The Ramblers have scored an average of 77.8 points per game during their first 4-0 start to a season since 2005–2006.

“I don’t think people realize how important that is [for momentum],” said senior forward Andy Polka after the Ramblers’ victory against the Indiana State University Sycamores on Nov. 13.

Polka said a better focus on defense will be what this team depends on heavily

this season.

“That’s what we’re going to rely on this year, getting some stops on defense,”

Polka said.

The Ramblers were 5-13 in the Horizon League last season and finished eighth, above the Flames.

The Flames were 3-15 in the conference and finished 8-22 overall last season. Longtime head coach Jimmy Collins retired in the summer.

UIC hired Howard Moore, an assistant head coach for the Badgers at the University of Wisconsin under Bo Ryan.

After the Flames beat the Roosevelt University Lakers 94-54 on Nov. 15, Moore said the team will begin to limit opponents to one shot because defensive rebounding will prove vital.

The coach also noted the team’s ability to get boards when efficient shooting isn’t present throughout the season.

“We’re not going to shoot [at] 50 percent all the time, and if those opportunities are there, we can’t get them unless we pursue the offensive rebound,” Moore said.

Given the team was blown out by the University of Pittsburgh Panthers in its season opener, Moore said he still likes what his team is doing early in the season. He noted  the players must understand who they are as a team,  and it will translate to better effort on the court and the standings.

Moore said he’s not just trying to change the culture of the Flames, he wants to change how players do things on a daily basis, such as going to class, eating meals and doing things as a group.

“There’s a big difference in winning teams and winning programs,” Moore said. “Winning programs get it done consistently every year. These [players] are

just hungry.”