In a way, the 2017-18 season was both the best and worst for the Cincinnati Bearcats. They won a program record 31 games, won the regular season and tournament championships in the American Athletic Conference and were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They also collapsed in the second round of the Big Dance and then had to say goodbye to three of their best players in Gary Clark, Jacob Evans and Kyle Washington.
Whatever happens in this coming season, it is unlikely to match the highs and lows of last year. That’s not to say that the Bearcats are going to be bad. Rather, it indicates that this year’s team is probably going to trend back toward the middle, although not fall to mediocrity entirely. So while the sky was the limit last year and the floor was still pretty high, we’ll need to adjust those expectations this time around.
For the Bearcats to reach their ultimate potential this season, they need a few things to happen.
Jarron Cumberland has to rise to prominence outside of Clifton. He’ll need to be one of the best scorers in the American Athletic Conference and be a shoe-in for all-league honors.
Next, Trevor Moore and Keith Williams each need to take steps forward in their progression to give UC depth and production on the wings.
After that, a new guy will need to break out. Rashawn Fredericks is the obvious candidate there, but Logan Johnson could be a difference maker if he can knock down shots and gets the chance in a crowded backcourt.
Lastly, some combination of Trevon Scott, Nysier Brooks, Eliel Nsoseme and Mamoudou Diarra need to be able to dominate the frontcourt in a manner similar to Clark and Washington. If you add those three things to what you expect (suffocating defense and a winning culture), then there’s no reason to believe the Bearcats won’t be able to pull off another excellent season.
Those are all pretty vague requirements and aren’t a guarantee of what’s to come. That’s what predictions are for and that’s why you’re here. Without further ado, here are this year’s Down the Drive approved predictions.
Jarron Cumberland will average the most points per game by a Bearcat since Sean Kilpatrick
In his final season with UC, Kilpatrick averaged 20.6 points per game. Since then, the Bearcats have featured a number of perfectly capable scorers. Jacob Evans and Troy Caupain were the best two of that time, but neither scored more than 13.5 points per game. Obviously that didn’t make a big difference in the standings, but an all hands on deck approach to offense may not work this year.
That’s where Cumberland steps in. He is going to be given plenty of chances and his offensive versatility should lend itself to lots of big-time scoring efforts. He already proved what he was capable in last year’s NCAA Tournament (22 points per game) and that was before he became the de facto leader on the roster. Cumberland’s usage percentage rivaled that of Jacob Evans last year and was third among players who appeared in all 36 games. If he can improve his efficiency, then the shot opportunities will be there. All they have to do is fall and this prediction will come true. Expect something in the range of 15 to 17 points per game.
Cane Broome will also average in double figures, but no other player will average more than 8.5
Unless Cumberland wants to go out and score 70 points per game, somebody else will have to do some scoring. Broome is the obvious fit. He has a history of offensive success (see his time at Sacred Heart) and as a point guard, he’ll have the ball in his hands quite a bit. However, unlike Justin Jenifer, another point guard, Broome has the ability to create his own shot, knock down attempts from all ranges and craft points out of nothing. Broome was the sixth man off the bench last year and he still averaged 23.2 points per 100 possessions. He’s going to start this year and should manage to get his scoring average up into double digits.
After Cumberland and Broome, however, there are no proven and consistent scorers. Williams and Moore both have deep range and solid offensive potential while newcomers like Rashawn Fredericks and Logan Johnson will be top options in the future. For this year, after Cumberland and Broome, the rest of the team will be filled with a lot of guys who score some, but not a ton.
Trevon Scott will record at least five double-doubles
Last Thursday, the Bearcats played an exhibition game against Tusculum. It was a tune-up for Wednesday’s season opener with Ohio State and an easy way for the team to get back into the swing of things. All results from the contest need to be taken with large helpings of sodium, but Scott ripped down 10 rebounds as a starter. It was a promising showing for a player who is already a skilled glass-cleaner. Scott ranked third on the team in total rebounding percentage last season and is now a starter. He isn’t going to be throwing up 10 points or 10 rebounds every night, but if he can find his way to 10 points once in a while, he’ll have a real shot at posting more than a few double-doubles.
Rashawn Fredericks will be the highest scoring newcomer
Speaking of that exhibition game, Fredericks made his case as the team’s eight or ninth man. That could be enough for him to score more than most of the other newcomers. He only scored five points in the exhibition, but took six shots and played 20 total minutes. Since the majority of the depth is made of returning players like Moore, Williams and Nsoseme, there is only going to be so many chances for new players. Fredericks already has some collegiate experience and the scoring skill to be an offensive pinch-hitter, so he;s the natural choice to be a new guy who produces.
10 different players will start a game
Seven players started at least one game for the Bearcats last season, but that was with a starting lineup that was largely locked in from the jump. Cumberland and Jenifer are the only returning starters, and Broome was a starter a few times, but after that, there are a lot of guys with varying degrees of playing experience but without proven track records as starters. Mick Cronin is entering a new era for the program and that will mean finding the best combination for the first and second units. Some experimenting will be required and that will mean giving someone besides the opening night starters a chance.
The Bearcats will win the Crosstown Shootout
Both UC and Xavier are programs in flux. For the Bearcats, its due to player turnover. Clark, Evans and Washington will not be easily replaced. On the other side, Xavier is entering a completely new time after head coach Chris Mack left for Louisville. The Musketeers aren’t going to suddenly regress to a 10-win team by any means, but things will be difficult. The Bearcats still have their identity to lean on and more than a few talented holdovers, whereas Xavier has to replace a new coach and guys like Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura. It also helps that this game is at Fifth Third Arena. From where I’m standing, this looks like UC’s turn to grab the edge back in this ancient rivalry.
The Bearcats will be ranked at some point during the season, but won’t finish there
UC is receiving 21 votes in the preseason top 25 from the Associated Press. That has them ranked 34th in the country, technically. A win against Ohio State in the opener and a hot start through November and December, which feature some pretty big-time games, would vault the Bearcats into the national rankings once more. However, the American Athletic Conference has gotten a lot better all of a sudden, so even if they can survive the gauntlet of the non-conference schedule, which features games against Ohio State, Xaiver, Mississippi State and UCLA, with 10 or so wins, the Bearcats are going to have some troubles in the new year. When all is said and done, this is still a 20-23 win team, but that might not be enough to secure enough votes to be ranked.
The Bearcats will reach the American Athletic Conference title game, but fall short
UCF. Houston. Wichita State. SMU. Even new-look UConn and Memphis. All of these teams are going to challenge the defending AAC champion Bearcats. Some have been overrated early on and others are the real deal. UC is probably not going to repeat its run to regular season and tournament crowns, but it has enough talent to be one of the teams in the conversation. With Cumberland and Broome, this team has enough firepower to push through to at least the final, but that might be the extent of the potential. However, predictions for March made in November are always difficult to nail, so perhaps when Cumberland is cutting down the nets at FedExForum, you can come back and remind me how wrong I was.
The Bearcats will be a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament and lose in the second round
Last year might have been the best Bearcat team since Kenyon Martin was on campus and even they couldn’t get past the second round. That run of falling short of the Sweet 16 (and beyond) will break one day, but this year doesn’t look like the time. With that written, this is still a team who will easily make the field of 68 and if Cumberland or Broome (or anyone really) gets hot, anything can happen.