DePaul's Webster earning his keep

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- If Tracy Webster isn't hired to be DePaul's full-time coach at the end of the year -- and the chances of that almost zero -- it won't be for lack of effort.

Webster's stock should rise after Saturday's narrow 59-57 loss to No. 4 Syracuse. Why? Because Webster devised a very simple, easy strategy, and his players executed it. That it came against a team most see as destined for the Final Four -- and that it came from a DePaul team that barely cracks the top 200 in efficiency in 2009-10 -- is borderline remarkable.

Webster's strategy was conventional enough: Build a lead, slow the game down as much as possible, take good shots against the zone, defend Syracuse to the hilt, and hope the Orange kept missing shots. Easy, right? Not exactly, but this is how you beat a superior team -- by keeping the game in the half court and keeping the taller, faster, more athletic side dormant for as long as possible.

"We definitely wanted to shorten the game," Webster said. "We tried to make every catch hard. We tried to play with energy and enthusiasm. And when you defend well and make shots, it makes everything look better."

Sure, it's not the most innovative set of ideas in the world. There's nothing particularly sexy about it. But given where DePaul was earlier this season, and given the way most teams react to their coach being fired mid-season, DePaul's players could be forgiven for packing it in. Instead, DePaul played as well Saturday as at any point this season (and that includes their still-inexplicable win over Northern Iowa earlier this season).

It's not entirely due to coaching. The return of previously injured forward Mac Koshwal is a big boost for DePaul; his 15.6 percent offensive rebounding rating helps the Demons' make up for their typically ugly shooting, which they continued today. Nor was Webster's performance flawless. His players had no answer for Syracuse's occasional press (why Syracuse didn't press most of the game remains a mystery), and allowed themselves to get caught in traps far too often. This led to DePaul's timeout trouble; the Demons called so many desperate timeouts from traps that, with seven minutes left in the second half, Webster had no remaining timeouts.

Those quibbles aside, though, DePaul had a chance to beat Syracuse in the final minute of a game in January. They fought. They cared. Timeouts or not, this is a quality coaching job.

"We did a good job of trying to follow the game plan," Webster said. "What could you have done differently? And not even on [the players'] end. These kids bbattled. They did. They fought. Hopefully we'll continue to have carryover. We'll see what happens."

Conditions outside Webster's control, including the desires of DePaul's athletics department and boosters to land a known coach with the name recognition to keep some of Chicago's talent in the city, will probably keep him from turning that rising stock into a permanent job at DePaul. That's just how things work. Everyone knows it. But if Saturday's near-upset doesn't get Webster a DePaul job, it ought to merit him some consideration elsewhere.