I recently published a post with a quickly fly-by summary of what to expect from next season's roster. I wanted to come back and dig a bit deeper, especially now that we have more news...
If you've been living under a rock, junior Bearcat wing Jacob Evans declared for the NBA Draft yesterday. While he has yet to sign an agent, I expect that will happen eventually. Jake has stated that he's fully intent on leaving, and only a true curveball at this point could bring him back. In short: He's gone.
Without going on a tangent to force my (correct) opinion on everyone, this was a smart, logical move on Jacob's part. We should all be happy that a Bearcat gets to fulfill a dream. It's a win for all of us.
However, that leaves the Bearcats in a bit of a precarious position. I don't care how optimistic you are, losing 37.2 points, 18.9 rebounds, 5.6 assists is a brutal blow for any team.
That's 50% of last year's scoring, 48% of last year's rebounding, and 35% of last year's assists. We didn't even mention blocks and steals. One could certainly make the case that this is the best graduating class of Cronin's tenure. For more substantial departing groups, you may have to go back to 2006 or even 2000.
Make no mistake about it, the 2018-19 Bearcats are Jarron Cumberland's team. Losing Gary and Kyle in the locker room will be tough, but I think Cumberland is the best on-court leader since Sean Kilpatrick. I always called Jacob "Big Game Jake," when really it's Cumberland that hits the national spotlight and is looking to score 50 points, bury you alive, and dance on your grave. Jarron will be unchained next year. Someone of his stature should thrive in being pushed to the forefront. He's a pitbull, probably the closest thing Mick has had to a true villain, and I'm going to love watching him next season.
Here's a way-too-early, slightly deeper look at 2018-19 Bearcats basketball:
What we know:
Small Forward: Jarron Cumberland
2017-18 (28.9mpg): 11.5 points, 4.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists | 48.8 2P%, 33.9 3P%, 67.8 FT%
With Jacob's departure and UC's wealth of guards, Jarron and his big body slide out of the second guard spot and into the wing. Cumberland is listed at 6'5" 218lbs, so expect him to get time at both guard spots, wing, and even power forward on smaller lineups. Maybe JaQuon Parker can get in his ear and teach him how to bully guys in the paint.
Let's hope Jarron can get in shape and stay healthy, because Mick will ride him next season. SK averaged about 34mpg as a senior and 36mpg in conference play. I don't think Cumberland will get that much burn, but it could be close.
One thing I'd really like to see Jarron improve on is free throw shooting. He has the right mentality on the floor, knowing how to attack aggressively and often. He's going to be living at the line next season and 67.8% is practically a liability. Bump that up about 10% and I think Jarron is looking at four points at the line each night. If he can do that, he could be flirting with 20ppg. Otherwise I'm expecting something in the neighborhood of 17 or so.
Like it or not, the 2018-19 Bearcats are going as far as Cumberland can take them.
Power Forward: Trevon Scott
2017-18 (12.5mpg): 3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists | 56.2 2P%, 59.6 FT%
Trevon is Cincinnati's Swiss Army Knife. The kid can do a bit of everything, and we're going to see that play out on a larger scale next season. Instead of 12.5 minutes per night, Scott should be getting closer to 30. Expect an Octavius Ellis stat line with nearly even points and rebounds. Given that most of his offense comes on put-backs, the two will largely be tied together. He's a great rebounder. The more he can pull down, the more points he'll score. I'm expecting something like 8 & 8 each night. Given the fact that UC has a few established guys in the front court, I'm not sure Scott will get enough minutes to put up gaudy rebound numbers. He'll ultimately have to split some time with Nsoseme and Diarra.
One thing I'd like to see him work on is his mid-range game. We know Brooks doesn't have offense away from the rim, and Cumberland will need driving lanes. If Scott can add just enough to be dangerous, it can help draw defenders away from the basket to make room for the guards to penetrate. Scott seemed to improve in this area last season, but the next step would pay huge dividends.
Center: Nysier Brooks
2017-18 (9.7mpg): 2.6 points, 2.3 rebounds | 49.4 2P%, 55.2 FT%
Some people seem to have delusions of Nsoseme starting here, or even Diarra breaking in next to Scott. You're fooling yourself if you think Mick is going to unseat the 6'11" contributor who clearly has this job coming to him, especially in favor of someone who played 166 total minutes last season.
It remains to be seen whether or not Brooks will meld completely with a team that will continue to be fast, but we know Mick trusts him. Not many teams have 6'11" guys clogging up the paint, and sheer size manages to be underrated in a game where speed and spacing are trendier.
For Brooks to have a positive impact, I'd like to see two things: First, some post moves. Someone of his size should be able to get buckets when needed. Brooks will never be Kyle Washington, but it would be cool if he were Coreontae DeBerry. Second, I'd like to see him work on discipline in regards to fouling. Brooks racked up the team's most fouls per 40 minutes last season, but it didn't matter because he was a bench player. He'll be the starter next year and the the Bearcats are hurting for depth in the front court. If he gets rung up for two fouls early, suddenly you're relying on a sophomore with 166 total minutes played as a freshman to protect that paint for long stretches in the first half. The margin for error will be slim.
Now that Jacob's departure has opened a scholarship for next season, it will be interesting to see if Cronin pursues a transfer big man who is eligible next year. I do not anticipate finding someone to be a starter, but it would be great to get this team's DeBerry--a guy who can be trusted for a 10-15 minute burst each night, or as an emergency fill-in for Brooks after early foul trouble. As of right now, I am not anticipating Diarra having a large impact just yet. (And he's more of a stretch three than a stretch four.) Given that fact, I think UC needs another big. I'd rather not see Scott, Brooks, and Nsoseme cover two positions alone.
Point guard: Justin Jenifer or Cane Broome?
Early edge: Justin Jenifer
As I alluded to with Brooks, Mick really doesn't like to revoke someone's starting job, especially when it's not the fault of the player. We know Cronin is a Justin Jenifer fan, and Jenifer started 33 of 36 games last year. Do we really think he's going to bench him for his senior season?
Here's my issue: Broome's strengths are more important than ever and Jenifer's strengths are less important than ever. With the outgoing class, Broome becomes the only player not named Jarron to average more than five points per night. The Bearcats need scoring. Given the talent vacuum, Broome's 7.9 points in 20.5 minutes are looking awfully nice.
Last year Justin Jenifer buttered his bread by spreading the ball around and not turning it over. The 3.57 assist to turnover ratio is enough to make any coach drool. If Jenifer had gotten more minutes to qualify, that mark would be #5 in the country. I'm a Justin Jenifer fan. Unfortunately for him, his strengths are somewhat negated by the roster around him.
Who, besides Cumberland, is Jenifer going to feed next year? There just aren't dynamic scorers around him anymore and he will have to be the dynamic scorer. His offense was underrated last year, but he is never going to be the double-digit scorer the Bearcats need.
All that being said, I think the turnover rate and incumbent status will be too much for Mick to ignore. If Jenifer is the starter, I'd disagree, but I wouldn't throw a fit. This is ultimately a pretty good problem to have.
I do think there's an outside shot that Jenifer and Broome both start.
Shooting guard: Trevor Moore or Keith Williams?
Early edge: Trevor Moore
Again, when it comes to questions about Cronin's roster decisions, I default to the incumbent. Of course, neither of these guys started last year, but Moore played about 100 more minutes over the course of the season and was frequently the first guy off the bench.
Moore figures to be the better shooter, despite many fans ready to quit on him after a freshman campaign that saw him wear out at the end, an occurrence that is more common than not. Besides, the 31.7% from outside isn't exactly a liability. Not great, but not nearly enough for me to write him off before his sophomore year. LaZelle Durden shot 33% as a freshman on three attempts per game and 42% as a sophomore on ten attempts per game. Let's hold off on the definitive assessments.
That being said, I'm again anticipating Cronin making a decision I disagree with. While Trevor wound up being one of my favorite players to watch last season, I think Williams projects as a better starter for a team in need of dynamic athletes after losing three of them. I'm not saying Williams is a slam dunk, because 15% from outside and twice as many turnovers as assists are things that will have to be considered. I'm simply advocating for Keith to learn on the fly. I saw enough glimpses of greatness last season to anticipate a big leap. Plus I think Trevor Moore's 3&D skill set is better suited as a bench weapon for now anyway.
As I mentioned above, I wouldn't be totally surprised if neither of these two start and Mick elects to run with Jenifer and Broome. Mick loves seasoned vets and he has two senior point guards and two sophomore shooting guards. Doubling up on seniors is possible.
I mentioned this in my previous piece about the 2018-19 team, but I'm not a scout. I can't tell you what Logan Johnson or LaQuill Hardnett will do next year, and honestly neither can anyone else.
Hardnett's spot feels fairly cut and dry. There are clear roles ahead of him, but not tons of depth. He won't be a huge factor as a freshman, but surely he'll get some minutes here and there. I'm thinking 10 or so. His career has a high ceiling and I anticipate his role will grow each season.
Johnson is the interesting one. He'll be battling far greater depth ahead of him, as two seniors are in his natural point guard position and two proven sophomores are occupying a potential secondary role. However, he's currently on track to be the starting point guard in 2019-20 and he has to get ready. There's a chance Johnson will have go to from playing 10 minutes per night this season to 30 per night in 2019. Finding minutes will be tough with four guards ahead of him, but Mick doesn't have a choice but to get Johnson on the court.
Lineups I want to see:
The Starters: Broome / Williams / Cumberland / Scott / Brooks
I just feel like this is making the best of the loss of talent. Broome, Williams, and Cumberland are all comfortable attacking and Broome and Cumberland are proficient outside shooters. Scott and Brooks hold down the paint, providing rebounding and rim protection and scoring when the points are there for the taking.
Run and Gun: Jenifer / Broome / Moore / Cumberland / Scott
Spacing, shooting, and speed. If the Bearcats were an NBA team, they'd use this lineup at some point. Jenifer is lightning fast and can distribute efficiently. Broome, Moore, and Cumberland are your shooters, and Broome and Cumberland can also attack. Scott cleans the glass and is tall enough to play center while also being quick enough to hang with the other four.
Defense: Moore / Cumberland / Scott / Nsoseme / Brooks
If you haven't noticed, I'm going to start throwing things at the wall. This group could play some defense. I don't think there's a weak link in here, and the size is fantastic. Not exactly the lineup you'd want for more than a possession, but I think this is functional.
Length: Johnson / Williams / Hardnett / Diarra / Scott
The freshmen come in with Williams, Diarra, and Scott to provide what has to be the lankiest, most athletic lineup in the conference. This bunch could get their hands on every pass on the defensive end and jump out of the gym on the offensive end. Maybe we can at least see how this would look in a scrimmage. (Spoiler: If Cumberland skips his senior season, which is possible, we could be talking about this as the actual starting lineup in 365 days.)
As the season draws nearer, I'll have more in-depth predictions and forecasts. I can say with confidence that we won't be as good as last season. We won't see a top-5 ranking or 31 wins. However, there are lots of reasons to get excited. I don't anticipate Cincinnati's tournament streak stopping.