After Friday night’s game, Mick Cronin didn’t pull any punches when it came to Jarron Cumberland’s play. "I have to do a better job coaching him,” said Cronin. “He's got a bad habit of picking spots. He's never going to be a dominant player doing that." Cumberland has got to be the alpha male on this year’s team, and that’s not a secret. We’ve been talking about this since we saw it on the horizon when he was a freshman, and it became only more obvious when Jacob Evans passed up his senior season so he could be drafted in the first round by the Golden State Warriors.
The issue came when Cumberland didn’t come out firing this season. “I don’t know if you can make a guy want to carve people’s hearts out,” Cronin went on to say. The comments were about as barbed as you’ll see from Cronin, at least when directed at a player that hasn’t thrown a punch at an opponent.
On Monday, we finally saw some carving. Cumberland came out going for the heart and left looking like Hannibal Lecter, scoring 19 points in the first half en route to a game-high 27, tying a career best set against Georgia State in March. The efficiency waned in the closing minutes, as Cumberland finished 11-for-19 from the field, but he also distributed the ball, finishing the night with a team-high six assists.
This is the Jarron Cumberland the Bearcats need: scoring points by the bushel while still getting others involved. Through four games, he’s using 34.1% of Cincinnati’s possessions—4th among players in the major seven conferences.
The fact the Cumberland, averaging 15.3 points per outing, feels like he’s just starting to get into a rhythm is proof of how much Cincinnati will need him this year. Will that reliance on one player come back to bite the Bearcats? Maybe. It worked for large stretches of the 2013-14 season when Sean Kilpatrick was carrying the city on his back and dragging the Bearcats to a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
What Kilpatrick didn’t have, however, was weak competition in the conference. It looks like Cumberland might. He also didn’t have a scoring sidekick. It looks like Cumberland has that, too. After averaging 2.5 points in the first two games, Cane Broome is broiling with 15.5 in his last two. The opponents were Milwaukee and Western Michigan, to be fair. But you’ll take it as it comes with a team like this, and it’s coming.
The Bearcats will get on a plane destined for Niceville, Florida and the Emerald Coast Classic later this week. They’ll face George Mason on Friday followed by either Baylor or Ole Miss on Saturday. Whether the team comes back 2-0 is largely up to Cumberland.
What’s certain is that we’re going to learn more about a team that’s still learning about itself. If Cumberland plays like he did Monday, the road to March won’t be as treacherous as some feared.
Many are still resisting it, but I’ll continue to applaud Nysier Brooks for how he’s bounced back after a terrible opener against Ohio State. The big man put up 27 rebounds and 20 points in the last two games to bring his season averages up to 8.0 and 7.7, respectively. Those numbers feel conservative, but they’re right where I pegged him. Brooks doesn’t need to be Gary Clark or Kyle Washington. If he can soak up rebounds and put backs while serving as a point of intimidation to opposing defenses, he can save Cronin and UC fans lots of grief about the front court this year. That’s a big “if” but at least give the kid credit when he’s working.
Keith Williams is starting to seem like the real deal. Even with Broome coming on offensively, Cronin let Williams keep the starting job at the shooting guard spot. Even in just 20 minutes, and even with just eight points, Williams’ impact on the game was obvious. He threw in five rebounds, four steals, and a block. I’m not ready to say Williams will be a double-digit scorer all season, but if he can be a Swiss Army Knife in relatively limited time, Cincinnati will be much better for it.
Cronin clearly saw something he liked in practice this week, because both Mamoudou Diarra and Rashawn Fredericks got early minutes Monday. Fredericks’ contributions were relatively small: Four points and four rebounds in nine minutes. Diarra, however, may have fought his way back into the rotation after a phantom start to the season. He got minutes at the center position, which is probably where he’s best suited, at least for now. His six rebounds in 12 minutes stand out. Can’t wait to see how this situation develops.
The full OV team will be at Nippert Friday for Senior Day, which means we’ll likely miss most, if not all, of the basketball game. Not sure how I’m going to handle this from a content standpoint. Football will get full coverage for its last home game, but basketball coverage will be at least delayed, if not non-existent. I’ll record the George Mason game and try to watch late Friday, but I’ll be with family for the holiday. No promises.