The Cincinnati Bearcats are currently riding a six-game winning streak. They are 18-3 overall, tied for first place in the American Athletic Conference and possibly the biggest challenge to the Houston Cougars for the league title. These are all things you know. You may also be aware that Jarron Cumberland was recently named the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week for the fourth time. Cumberland and starters like Nysier Brooks, Keith Williams, Justin Jenifer and Trevon Scott have been at the forefront of yet another magical season for the Bearcats.
However, the guys who get the majority of the spotlight (and the minutes that come with it) aren’t doing it all by themselves, even if it seems like Cumberland is at times. Mick Cronin may like to lean on his primary contributors but there are other guys on the roster who are filling in the gaps. One player who has quietly made a positive impact is Eliel Nsoseme. Whether its getting a rebound or forcing opposing scorers to think twice about entering the paint, Nsoseme is making the most of his limited time on the floor and the Bearcats are better because of it.
There is nothing flashy about the 6’9” sophomore’s game. He is a bruiser down low who focuses on his prime objectives: defending and rebounding. In 13.4 minutes per game, both overall and in league play, Nsoseme has been the guy to spell Brooks and the drop off isn’t that severe when he does, at least in those two areas I just mentioned.
Among players to log at least 100 minutes, Nsoseme leads the team in rebound rate (19.3 percent) while ranking second to Brooks in offensive rebound percentage (11.7). Those numbers have dropped some in league play, particularly his offensive rebounding rate (5.8 percent), but he has made up for that by finishing defensive possessions effectively, leading the team in defensive rebounding rate during league play (23.8 percent).
Nsoseme’s ability to help the Bearcats on the boards was as evident as ever against Temple this past Sunday. In a game when UC desperately needed stops to overcome a 14-point deficit, Nsoseme pulled down six rebounds in nine minutes during the second half, including two offensive boards, which matched Temple’s entire output for the period.
In that game, and in many others, Nsoseme’s contributions have been a bit more difficult to see, but if you look closely, they appear. He is an excellent defender in the paint, daring opposing players to drive into the lane. Often times, they back away and it’s tough to blame them. Nsoseme is second on the team in block percentage (8.5) this season, trailing only Brooks on a UC team that absolutely decimates teams when they try to get a quick look near the rim. Nsoseme has excellent instincts when it comes swatting shots, but he is more than just a guy who feasts on errant shot attempts. He can really defend on the low block. He leads all Bearcats with at least 100 minutes in overall defensive rating (88.5) and while he’s had a bit more of a challenge in conference action, his mark of 92.4 is still at the top of the roster.
There is still a long way to go before Nsoseme is making larger contributions. Some major improvements on offense will be required before that happens. After all, Nsoseme has been pretty inefficient from the floor (40 percent) and abysmal at the foul line (37.5 percent). You can cry small sample all you want, but for a player that isn’t taking many shots from outside the painted area, those numbers need to improve. Until they do, there is always the risk opponents will key in on him and that is why you won’t be seeing him log big minutes in crunch time. Fortunately for the Bearcats, they don’t need those offensive improvements right this second. For now, Nsoseme is so good defensively and on the boards that he demands at least some playing time and a bit more credit.