Leitao views Northwestern as a model for how DePaul can grow

Photo: DePaul Athletics
Photo: DePaul Athletics
Photo: DePaul Athletics

In a battle of two programs that have struggled historically, it was very clear DePaul currently sits in a far worse place than Northwestern. The Blue Demons fell 80-64 on Saturday at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and the game was never that close. The Wildcats led 54-18 at halftime and bumped their lead all the way to 39 points early in the second half.

“Obviously it’s a severe disappointment,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said. “I have to go back a long way to be a part of a first half like that.”

While Leitao, in his second year as head coach, is still trying to find a winning formula, fourth-year Northwestern coach Chris Collins has found success the last two seasons after also struggling his first two years.

The Wildcats won 20 regular season games for the first time in program history last season and are off to a 6-2 start this time around.

“What [Collins] has done is recruit by recruit, practice by practice, game by game, kind of held down his ideals and now he’s got guys that truly understand and have skill packages to back up what the definition of what Northwestern basketball is about in his eyes,” Leitao said. “He’s got attackers, he’s got very fluid offensive group. His front line works really hard. And quite honestly, as much as we talked about it, I don’t think we were ready for that challenge.

With Saturday’s loss, the Blue Demons dropped to 4-2 and No. 191 overall in KenPom rankings. If this keeps up, DePaul will certainly finish with a losing record and possibly miss out on double digit wins for the second straight season.

“You have to be patient with yourself, you have to be patient with the people around you,” Leitao said. “You have to really bring in high quality people that can elevate your program. And a lot of it is they’ve got to get better. If they’re in an environment that requires them to get better in every aspect of their life, then that’s what happens.”

Collins took his lumps at Northwestern, too. The Wildcats had a losing record each of his first two seasons and lost 10 Big Ten games in a row during year two. And even though Northwestern won 20 games last season, it missed out on the postseason for the fourth straight season.

“We’ve had to fight through some really tough times,” Collins said after Saturday’s game. “We’ve had some amazing highs as well. It’s been a fun process. I’m not the most patient guy in the world so sometimes I look back and think of some of those times, and it’s what’s made me better. You become a better coach, you become a better leader.”

Leitao was at DePaul once before and had success in Chicago. In three seasons, he went 58-34, guiding the Blue Demons to the 2004 NCAA Tournament. No Chicago school has reached the Big Dance since then.

Looking at Leitao’s track record, Collins thinks he could have some local competition.

“He did it before,” Collins said. “He’s going to do it again.”

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