Long before the 2018-19 season began, before the Cincinnati Bearcats won their second-straight American Athletic Conference Tournament, before they suffered another brutal loss in the NCAA Tournament and before Mick Cronin decided to pack his bags and head to UCLA, it was known that the Bearcats would need to find replacements for the backcourt. With Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome both set to graduate, there would be two guard posts left empty entering the 2019-20 campaign.
While the reality of that fact set in months ago, it was tempered by the fact that the Bearcats would have a pretty solid cast in the frontcourt. Led by starters Trevon Scott and Nysier Brooks and rising reserves like Eliel Nsoseme and Mamoudou Diarra, it seemed that the Bearcats would have plenty of depth in the paint.
That notion took a major hit earlier this month when Brooks made the decision to transfer to Miami (Florida) and that once heralded depth could get even thinner, as Nsoseme is now thinking about transferring.
One of the major reasons that the Bearcats would be able to recover from losing Brooks was the fact that Nsoseme would take on an expanded role. The 6’9” soon-to-be junior actually outpaced Brooks in total rebound rate last season (17.4 percent compared with 16.5 percent) and like Brooks, was excellent on the offensive glass, joining him as one of two players with an offensive rebounding rate of more than 10 percent. Whether or not crashing the offensive glass will be as important in new head coach John Brannen’s system remains to be seen, but the Bearcats ranked seventh in the country in offensive rebound rate last season so that was clearly a secret to their success. Nsoseme also blocked shots well and with some improved offensive work, would have been a perfectly capable candidate to replace Brooks as the starting center next to Scott.
With Nsoseme’s future now up in the air, there will be even more pressure placed on Diarra, who flashed a similarly promising skill set last season but in 13 fewer games and four fewer minutes per contest. Still, in that small sample size he produced a higher block rate (7.7 percent) than Nsoseme (6.6 percent) and his rebound rate rivaled that of Brooks. Diarra also showed more promise as an offensive contributor, with a player efficiency rating of 19.2 and an offensive rating of 109.2, which ranked above guys like Broome and Keith Williams and was far better than Nsoseme’s mark of 95.2. If Diarra can replicate that type of efficiency over larger chunks of minutes, he is another great replacement for Brooks.
The problem is that Diarra can’t replace Brooks and Nsoseme. Scott is going to be an absolutely key player for the Bearcats next season, especially if he maintains the pace of play he managed during the final weeks of this last run, but he was already a starter in the froncourt. He’s not replacing anybody. That means Diarra is currently the only other frontcourt player on the roster who the Bearcats can count on. Obviously they have other players who are capable of providing depth with Trevor Moore, LaQuill Hardnett, Prince Gillam Toyambi and maybe even new recruit Jeremiah Davenport, but they are more fit for roles as wings or small forwards than providing the type of rim protection and rebounding that is necessary from a power forward or center.
Although there is currently no clear answer to how the Bearcats will make up for another loss to the froncourt, there will be eventually. Nsoseme leaving doesn’t mean that UC just has to shrink its roster. They can still add players via transfer and if they do, they absolutely need to make the frontcourt a priority. It may not have been what we expected at this point, but its what has come to pass all the same.