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Finding Reasons to Be Optimistic About Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball

Brutal doesn’t even do it justice, but after Sunday’s loss, the Bearcats must move on. Here’s how they can.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Nashville Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Its rare that a team gets the type of opportunity that the Cincinnati Bearcats got this March. They won their conference tournament, earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and then watched as its region in the bracket was beset with upsets. Those are just some of the many reasons that losing to Nevada in the round of 32 was so devastating. The road was paved to the Elite Eight. But the Bearcats broke down before they could get going.

Such a letdown makes it difficult to imagine that the Bearcats can be in such a position again, especially now that Gary Clark and Kyle Washington are gone. Plus, Jacob Evans may be headed off to the NBA. But the Bearcats are not in a position where everything will crumble around them next season. Here’s why.

Jarron Cumberland is going to break out

We saw glimpses of it in the tournament, but this is officially Cumberland’s team now. Even though his overall numbers for the season were subdued compared to his excellent sixth-man work as a freshman, Cumberland really came into his own down the stretch, turning into a superstar before our very eyes.

That was particularly evident in the NCAA Tournament, as he averaged 22 points and eight rebounds per game against Georgia State and Nevada. He also was tasked with running the offense more often than not, bringing the ball up and initiating the gameplan. Speaking of running the offense, Cumberland’s skill with shooting and getting to the rim are supplemented by flashes of excellent distribution skills, as he averaged 2.9 assists per game this season while ranking fourth on the team in assist percentage (18.9). Cumberland is the future of this program and that future is bright.

Year two with Cane Broome

You may think that Broome was a disappointment this season. After all, he only scored 7.9 points per game while serving as a sixth man. That was far below the 23 points per game pace he had as a starter at Sacred Heart. But Broome found his role as an offensive spark plug and distributor as the year went on.

He had a wonderful stretch of games from mid-February to the beginning of the American Athletic Conference Tournament when he averaged 12.7 points on .617/.500/.833 shooting. While he came back down to earth during the postseason, such a run shows just how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands. Plus, without the full weight of the scoring pressure on his shoulders, he was able to be more selective with his shots, which is part of the reason he set a career-high in field goal percentage (.463) and three-point shooting (.390).

Trevor Moore and Keith Williams are still developing

Both Moore and Williams are wing players who should get plenty of chances to contribute in the coming years, especially if Evans goes pro. Moore and Williams were each given opportunities this past season, with the former becoming the more utilized bench player in the second half. Moore was a serviceable reserve, hitting some big threes and committing to the defensive end of the floor. He posted an offensive rating of 107.2 and a defensive rating of 89.5, showing that he is a good fit for Mick Cronin’s system. Williams didn’t find his shooting touch as easily, but still showed signs of being a solid contributor. With a year under their belts, these two should make huge strides as sophomores.

What can Trevon Scott and Nysier Brooks do with starting minutes?

There is no doubt that the Bearcats are going to miss Clark and Washington. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have anybody ready to step in. Scott and Brooks don’t have the offensive polish of the players they used to back up, but they both bring plenty to the table. Scott showed real growth as a passer and has always been a guy that can defend multiple positions and go up and get a rebound. Brooks could be a big difference maker as a rim protector, but needs to be more consistent in finishing on offense. Add in younger big guys like Eliel Nsoseme and Mamoudou Diarra and the Bearcats will at least have plenty of options up front, even if further development is needed.

Reinforcements are coming

The recruiting cycle isn’t over for 2018 and the Bearcats already have two potential stars committed. The first is Logan Johnson, who projects as a high-volume scorer at point guard. A four-star recruit according to Scout, Johnson may compete for minutes with Justin Jenifer and Broome right away.

Then there’s LaQuill Hardnett, a three-star small forward who stands at 6’7” and should be able to adapt to defending at UC while providing more scoring punch.

All together, there are still going to be questions entering next season, especially in terms of player development. But there are also a lot of reasons to believe the Bearcats will be contending in the AAC once again, and that’s without considering the possibility that Evans will be back.