Jarron Cumberland was incredible for the Cincinnati Bearcats this past season. You don’t need me to tell you that. Just a look at his American Athletic Conference Player of the Year award should be enough to convince you of that fact.
As the best player in the conference and on the Bearcats, Cumberland may seem to have reached his peak, but every player can always get better. We see it with Mike Trout every baseball season and for years we saw LeBron James do it in the NBA. Cumberland may not have ascended to such rarefied air as Trout and James, but that just further proves that he can still get better.
Following the departure of Mick Cronin and the hiring of John Brannen, Cumberland’s status has been floating in the air a bit more than we expected just a few weeks ago. His NBA Draft prospects aren’t especially high but he may decide to test those waters or, like Rashawn Fredericks, opt to start over somewhere else on the collegiate level. However, he seems to at least be somewhat positive about the new direction of the program.
For too long, the Bearcats have been a team characterized by stingy defense, slow tempo and just enough offensive power to win games. It’s hard to argue with the results, as they have made nine-straight NCAA Tournament appearances and consistently contended for the American Athletic Conference crown. However, Brannen will likely shake things up and that could be a reason to not only entice Cumberland to stay but to improve his game as well.
Brannen’s Northern Kentucky teams were built on accurate and frequent passing and creating smart and efficient shots. The Norse tied for 27th in the country in effective field goal percentage and were a top 10 squad in assists per field goal made and assists per possession last season, according to Team Rankings.
Cumberland’s development as the top offensive option could really be enhanced by such a scheme. He averaged 35.6 points and 6.9 assists per 100 possessions, but he was forced to take more shots from difficult areas than he might have liked. That led to a career-low effective field goal percentage (48.2) even as he set personal bests in three-point (38.8 percent) and free throw (77.3 percent) shooting. An offensive system with more ball movement that emphasizes finding the best shot could give him easier looks, especially closer to the basket. If that were to occur and he is able to capitalize on more mid-range attempts and drives to the rim while maintaining his efficiency from other parts of the floor, there’s a chance he could even surpass the impressive 18.8 points per game he averaged this past season.
It’s not all about Cumberland’s scoring either. The junior swing man took a massive step forwards as a playmaker this past season, leading the Bearcats in assist rate (25.6 percent). If he continues to be the primary ball handler on a team that commits to Brannen’s type of offense, which seems likely since the Bearcats are losing their top two point guards to graduation, he could end up being a player who pours in buckets both for himself and his teammates.
Of course, there is the other side of that coin. Cumberland was a perfect fit for Cronin’s system as well because he was a stellar isolation scorer and was able to find points when the offense broke down. That was extremely valuable for a team that ranked 338th in the nation in possessions per 40 minutes, according to KenPom. Cumberland’s sky-high usage rate (32 percent) indicates just how much the Bearcats relied on him. They would still turn to him more often than not under Brannen, but its possible that his role could be diminished to a degree. Whether or not that matters to Cumberland is unclear, but even if it he doesn’t care about losing a few shots per game, the fact that he might have to reinvent his game after essentially reaching the pinnacle could deter him from sticking around.
We won’t really know what to expect until we get a final decision about Cumberland’s future. If he goes the professional or transfer route, then there’s no doubt that he will be a force wherever he goes next. However, its possible that with a new offensively powerful system in place at UC, he could be even better than he’s ever been if he remains a Bearcat.