There’s a new face of the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball program. For the last few years, it was Gary Clark. Before that it was Troy Caupain. Now it’s Jarron Cumberland’s turn.
Cumberland was heralded as a four-star recruit two years ago and he has quickly risen from promising freshman to the team’s best player. He certainly played like it in the NCAA Tournament last spring. In the first round, against a pesky Georgia State team, Cumberland stood out on a roster that included Jacob Evans and Gary Clark by scoring a career-high 27 points, ensuring the Bearcats would advance. He fueled a surge in the second round, scoring 17 points before fouling out against Nevada. It’s tough to believe the Bearcats would have lost if Cumberland had not missed 13 total minutes in that contest.
The ascension during March was just a continuation of what Cumberland has been doing at UC: constantly improving. After serving as a scorer off the bench as a freshman, he took to the starting lineup fairly well, especially in terms of volume. His scoring average went up by more than three points per game, while his minutes share went up by roughly 10.
Since he was playing against first units most of the time, rather than feasting on backups, Cumberland’s efficiency numbers did take a hit. He scored fewer points per 100 possessions (24.1 compared to 26.8) and only shot 40.9 percent from the floor. Diving deeper, Cumberland was still attempting three-pointers on a little more than 50 percent of his shots, but that didn’t stop declines in his true and effective field goal percentage.
What buoys expectations for the steps he’ll take this year is what he did down the stretch as a sophomore. He shot a bit better from the field (.418) and 35.3 percent from three-point range during seven games in March. While those numbers were only slightly better than his full season averages, the best sign was Cumberland’s ability to get to and capitalize at the free-throw line. He shot nearly four free throws per game and made 77.8 percent of them. Cumberland is great at putting the ball on the deck and creating shots near the rim. That causes a lot of contact, but he’s only made 66.3 percent of his collegiate foul shots. If he can be more effective there, he’ll be more effective everywhere.
Breaking away from his scoring, Cumberland may have shot less efficiently and scored less on a per 100 possession rate, but while those numbers dipped some as he became a starter, his work in other areas got much better. He produced gains in rebounding and assists, while transforming from a passable defender into a pretty effective one. He may not be winning any defensive player of the year awards, but his 91.1 defensive rating and 2.6 defensive win shares showed he could more than hold his own.
Cumberland will no longer be able to just be a guy, no matter how solid, on this team. He played with Clark, Evans and Kyle Washington, so he was able to be more of a gap-filler than the focal point the last two years. The spotlight will be on him alone now. Sure, the Bearcats need everyone to step up, but for them to really excel, they need Cumberland to take the leap to stardom.