One of the biggest highlights of 2018 for the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball program was seeing Jacob Evans get selected in the first round of the NBA Draft last June. Evans was the first first rounder for the Bearcats since Jason Maxiell was taken No. 26 overall in 2005.
While hearing Evans name called in the first round is and was a call for celebration, it also signified the end of an era for UC basketball and cemented the reality that Evans would no longer be calling Fifth Third Arena his basketball home. As we did last week with Kyle Washington, let’s dive into what the Bearcats will miss most about Evans and how they can go about making up for his absence in the upcoming season.
What the Bearcats lost
The obvious answer is scoring. Evans was recruited because of his natural offensive abilities, which was a bit of a change for Mick Cronin. While he wasn’t Trae Young in his three seasons with the Bearcats, Evans was consistently a top scoring option. In fact, he led the team in scoring each of the last two years and, in both of those seasons, he averaged at least 13 points per game while maintaining an offensive rating well above 100 in all three years he was on the team.
His best season was his sophomore campaign when he set personal bests of 13.5 points per game and 126.7 in offensive rating. A dynamic scorer, Evans could do it all. He had incredible range and was a 37.7 percent shooter from three-point range. He was also able to create his own shots and get into the key for buckets in traffic. That nose for the basket helped fuel a real killer instinct for Evans, who was certainly the guy the team looked to when it needed a big shot in the waning seconds.
Evans’ value went beyond his ability to put the ball in the basket. A skill he had that doesn’t show up on box scores was his ability and willingness to improve. The 6’6” wing could have decided he just wanted to shoot at UC, but he dedicated himself to becoming a strong defender and also developed into a playmaker during his time with the team.
Let’s start with that defensive improvement. Evans came in and immediately fit into Cronin’s high pressure defense, as he had a defensive rating of 95.9 as a freshman. But he wasn’t satisfied with that and eventually put together an 88.3 defensive rating last season, powered by a newfound aggression in shot blocking. For a player who already had a gift for forcing turnovers, rejecting shots made him all the more dangerous.
Then there was his passing. As his usage percentage rose each season, Evans realized he needed to make sure he kept others involved. He had an assist percentage of an even 20 as a junior and averaged 3.1 assists per game, which were both career-highs.
For the Bearcats, finding someone else who is willing to shoot the ball won’t be the challenge. The real test will be finding someone who improves his game without letting his own offense suffer.
Who needs to step up in his absence?
We once again have an obvious answer: Jarron Cumberland. There’s no question that this is now Cumberland’s team and the 6’5” junior from Wilmington, Ohio has already learned what it takes to be a starter for a full season. Now he will do the same thing as the No. 1 scoring option. He certainly showed that he was up to the task, even in big moments, after the display he put on in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. He poured in 27 points in UC’s first round win over Georgia State and, even if they ultimately let the game slip away, there is no way the Bearcats would have been in a position to go up big on Nevada in the second round without Cumberland.
While scoring is also Cumberland’s biggest strength, it’s not like he can’t defend a little as well. He had a 91.1 defensive rating last season. It remains to be seen if he can keep up that type of production when (or if) he’s asked to D up the top perimeter scoring options for opponents like Evans was. As for that passing ability, Cumberland was a sneaky good distributor, with an 18.9 assist percentage. He’s not John Wall by any means, but he has good court vision and will get guys into positions to score.
Looking past Cumberland, the Bearcats will place a lot of faith in Trevor Moore, Keith Williams and newcomer Rashawn Fredericks to recreate what Evans took with him.
How difficult will it be to replace him?
Even though Cumberland has numbers that match up with Evans, the two are very different players. Cumberland is better at putting the ball on the floor and barreling his way to the rim, but his defense isn’t as good and he hasn’t shown the same ability to run the offense. Cronin is going to lean on Cumberland a lot, but mixing and matching lineups and getting progress from some other wings will be critical to replacing Evans.
What did he do after leaving UC?
Evans was selected No. 28 overall in the NBA Draft by the defending champion Golden State Warriors. He made the cut for the team and averaged 18.5 minutes per game in the preseason. With a roster loaded with All Stars, the Warriors probably won’t utilize Evans all that much, but he’s in a perfect place to acclimate to the league and learn what it takes to win.