Mamoudou Diarra has not played a meaningful game of basketball yet in 2018. I’m not just talking about the first two months of upcoming 2018-19 season either. He did not play a single minute in the regular season, conference tournament or NCAA Tournament last season once the calendar turned over to 2018. That’s a roundabout way of saying that Diarra has not really gotten a chance to show the Cincinnati Bearcats what he can do.
It’s perfectly understandable that Diarra did not play in a game after appearing in a total of seven in November and December of his freshman season. The 6’9” forward from Mali is best suited for banging in the post, but the Bearcats were pretty loaded in the froncourt last year. It wasn’t just starters Gary Clark and Kyle Washington either. There was also Tre Scott and Nysier Brooks eating minutes off the bench and fellow freshman Eliel Nsoseme to contend with. Eventually, the Bearcats decided to go with a redshirt season for Diarra. Now that Clark and Washington have graduated, there will be more minutes to spare in the paint and Diarra should be a primary beneficiary.
When he did play last season, he was fairly solid. His biggest strengths are in rim protection and rebounding, as you might expect of a guy his size. While his playing time gives us a rather paltry sample size to go off of, Diarra posted a defensive rating of 83.1 across 46 minutes. A large reason for his stellar defensive metrics was how well he kept opposing scorers from getting good shots near the tin. He blocked a total of five shots, which would equate to more than four per game if he had kept up the pace and played all 40 minutes each night. Obviously he’s not going to be doing that, even if there is a little more playing time to spare. But the fact that he has already flashed shot-swatting capabilities is promising.
Then there’s the rebounding. Big guys need to be able to clean the glass and Diarra clearly takes that responsibility seriously. Again, there’s a small sample size disclaimer, but he averaged 11.3 rebounds per 40 minutes and 17.1 per 100 possessions last season. A skill set like that is going to earn points from Mick Cronin every day of the week.
Where Diarra is still a work in progress is on offense. Even though the bulk of the scoring from the Bearcats is going to come from the backcourt this season, the loss of Clark and Washington leaves large shoes to fill in the post-scoring department. Brooks, Scott, Nsoseme and Diarra will all be required to step up and fill the void. Diarra did score nine points in 12 minutes against West Carolina, but his percentages in true shooting (.438) and effective field goal (.375), plus a sub-100 offensive rating, all leave a lot to be desired. It’s possible that with more reps, his shots will find the net more often, but its clear there is work to be done.
Work isn’t a bad thing, however. Diarra had plenty of time to learn and wait his turn a year ago. Now he will have a chance to turn that patience into production.