This is going to sound sensational, but bear with me.
DePaul hit a new low on Wednesday with a home loss to UIC, who was missing leading scorer Dikembe Dixson for the final 33 minutes of the game. UIC came in with a No. 253 ranking in KenPom, a 3-5 record against Division I teams this season and a 6-30 record in one-plus seasons under coach Steve McClain.
While the Demons have lost to slightly worse teams in their program history, such as American and Florida Gulf Coast during the 2009-10 season, nothing is as bad as losing on your home floor to a mid-major rival from your own city that had not won a road game in 22 months. Forget that UIC’s last non-conference road win was an entire 14 months before that, three year’s to the day of Wednesday’s game. (The Flames defeated Southeast Missouri State on Dec. 14, 2013.)
Although the Demons won just three games in 1996-97, they had no individual losses as bad as this one. And DePaul is lucky this is just their first terrible loss of the season. It barely held off Robert Morris (No. 282 KenPom) in the season opener and Drake (No. 269 KenPom) on Nov. 30.
Looking at the numbers, this could wind up being DePaul’s worst season since KenPom rankings began in 2001-02. The Blue Demons finished No. 206 in the 2008-09 season. After Wednesday’s loss to UIC, this year’s team fell to No. 191.
“I’m not real happy or pleased with what happened tonight,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao told media. “But as I told the guys, I think you reap what you sow. This has been a regularity for us, and give credit to [McClain] and the guys. They played extremely hard and inspired.”
KenPom’s algorithm projects DePaul will finish 10-20 and 3-15 in the Big East. The Demons are favored in their next two games at home against Chicago State and SEMO, but they are underdogs in each of their final 20 games. Yes, even at home against St. John’s, which just lost to LIU Brooklyn.
When Dixson left Wednesday’s game with a knee injury, DePaul trailed 11-10. The Demons built an eight-point halftime lead and led by nine early in the second.
Not only did DePaul let UIC come back, but the game also ended in embarrassing fashion. The Demons left known sharpshooter Kyle Guice wide-open for a go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute. They had a final chance to force overtime down 78-75 with 5.9 seconds left and the ball underneath their basket. Not only did R.J. Curington get away with a five-second violation and a travel, but his inbounds pass was then stolen by Tai Odiase to put the game away.
The final result was simple. DePaul was outplayed on its own floor by a program it’s supposed to beat almost every time they play.
UIC was 8-point underdogs with Dixson. When DePaul took its largest lead of the game early in the second half, KenPom gave the Demons nearly a 95% chance of winning, and that was if the Flames still had Dixson available.
Yet over the final 15 minutes, this game looked like anything but an upset.