DePaul continues to wait patiently for three key players to heal and return to its lineup, but the Blue Demons don’t have time to wait to solve one of their bigger issues: Slow starts.

As the Blue Demons (5-4) prepare for Saturday’s nonconference home game against UTEP (6-2), they’re coming off Wednesday’s fruitless trip to New York where they fell behind 12-0 to trigger a 19-point loss at St. John’s.

Four days prior to that, DePaul fell behind by 17 points midway through the first half at Loyola (Ill.) — but at least found a way to rally for an overtime win in that one. One week prior to that, DePaul never led in a 16-point home loss to Texas A&M. And five days prior to that, DePaul trailed Oklahoma State 19-3 before rallying to lose in the waning seconds.

“We’re trying to figure it out,” DePaul head coach Tony Stubblefield said recently. “It’s definitely a work in progress of getting off to faster starts. That’s something we’ve talked about … getting off to faster starts.”

If there’s a consolation prize to all of these issue at the beginning of games, it’s in the fact that Top 100 freshman recruit Zion Cruz has been able to get more time off the bench and figure out how to contribute. After amassing just 16 points in DePaul’s first eight games, Cruz earned a career-high 22 minutes against St. John’s and delivered a career-high 14 points on 6-for-12 shooting.

UTEP hits Chicago in search of its first road win of the season. The Miners dropped a 15-point decision at Texas to start the season and took a 25-point beating at New Mexico State on Nov. 30.

The Miners retained just 8.8 points per game from last year’s 20-win team as starters left for Xavier, Memphis and Northwestern. That forced head coach Joe Golding to try to mold a bunch of newcomers from the transfer portal — including Southern Miss guard Tae Hardy (team-high 12.9 points per game) and Missouri/New Mexico State guard Mario McKinney Jr. (11.8 ppg).

Among UTEP’s shortcomings? A 25.4 percent conversion rate on 3-pointers and a 63.3 percent showing at the free-throw line.

“The one thing about our team is we’re learning,” Golding said recently. “We’ve got a brand-new team … but the effort, the grit and the toughness has been there for our guys.”

–Field Level Media