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Returning Player Refresher: Keith Williams

Williams broke out for the Bearcats last season. He’ll be asked to exceed that success this year.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round- Iowa Hawkeyes vs Cincinnati Bearcats Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018-19 season began much in the same way the 2017-18 season played out for Keith Williams. The 6’5” sophomore logged 13 minutes off the bench and struggled to find himself offensively in a loss against Ohio State, going 1-for-6 from the field. Considering he averaged 9.9 minutes per game and shot 38.5 percent from the field as a freshman, the effort did not instill a ton of confidence that Williams was ready to take on a larger role on the team. However, after the Cincinnati Bearcats lost that opening game, Williams was inserted into the starting lineup for the first time in his career and that promotion allowed him to bloom into one of the key members of last year’s American Athletic Conference tournament winning team.

In the 11 games after the Ohio State loss, Williams averaged 12.5 points per game while shooting at impressive rates from the field (51.9 percent) and from beyond the arc (37.5 percent). While his free-throw shooting suffered (55.6 percent at the line), it was clear that Williams was going to be one of the team’s best scorers for the long haul. He lived up to that billing for the most part, even if he faded some down the stretch, finishing the season ranked second on the team in scoring (9.9 points per game) while scoring in double figures 19 times. Along the way he continued to develop his ability to create his own shot while showing a willingness to shoot the ball from anywhere on the floor.

Unfortunately, just because Williams wasn’t afraid to let it fly, it didn’t mean his efficiency was ideal, especially from three-point range. He shot just 27.6 percent from beyond the arc while attempting 2.2 threes per contest. His three-point shot disappeared the most during the last two months of the season when he made just 5-of-30 threes (16.7 percent) after knocking down 16-of-36 (34.8 percent) in the first three months of the campaign. That pulled down his effective field goal rate (.488) even as he had success elsewhere on the floor, shooting 51.4 percent from two-point range and 70.7 percent from the foul line overall. Of course, Williams wasn’t able to find his shot from anywhere during the stretch run. In the final six games of the season, he averaged only 5.2 points per game while shooting 41.2 percent form the floor and 12.5 percent from three. The Bearcats went 3-3 in those contests, including an early exit in the NCAA Tournament.

Despite some rough spots to his offensive offerings, Williams still made quite a leap overall, especially compared to his freshman year. His offensive rating of 107.1 was more than 20 points higher than the year before and helped him produce 1.4 offensive win shares. He has yet to incorporate much in terms of distribution but as someone that gets buckets, Williams is among the best threats on the team.

His skill set doesn’t stop there, however. In addition to providing Jarron Cumberland with some support in terms of scoring, Williams was an active defender who helped UC maintain its defensive identity under Mick Cronin. That identity may change this season under John Brannen, but defense is still half of the equation. Williams was great at creating turnovers and disrupting shots. He averaged 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks per game and ranked second on the team in steal percentage (2.7) and fourth in block percentage (4.5). Such work on that side of the floor allowed him to produce 1.6 defensive win shares and a defensive rating of 97.4.

Williams’ sophomore breakout was something special and a big reason the Bearcats were one of the top teams in the AAC last season. Even if there are still some areas where he needs to improve, the 6’5” junior should once again be one of the most important contributors for the Bearcats throughout the 2019-20 campaign, regardless of how things go in the season opener against Ohio State.