For more than a month, the Cincinnati Bearcats have been stuck in a sort of college basketball limbo. Every since Jarron Cumberland announced his intention to test out his chances in the NBA Draft, the Bearcats have had to wonder what the future would look like without him while simultaneously wondering if they would be able to put off that eventuality for one more year. As the days and weeks passed, new questions cropped up from who would be most responsible for picking up where Cumberland left off to who would run the offense. All of the uncertainty of the last month has disappeared and in the best possible way for the Bearcats because Cumberland is going to play at UC for his senior season.
Ideally, this is also the best possible outcome for Cumberland as well. Between the announcement that he would be examining his NBA Draft chances and now, the soon-to-be senior has undoubtedly weighed the pros and cons of both staying and going and received feedback about where each choice could lead. His assessment led him back to the Bearcats for one more season and that should ultimately be a positive for all parties involved.
As the 2018-19 American Athletic Conference Player of the Year, Cumberland was everything to the Bearcats. He was the team’s top scorer (18.8 points per game), its primary ball-handler (32 percent usage rate) and its most productive play maker (25.6 percent assist rate). That doesn’t even bring up his work on the boards (4.4 per game), on defense (98.6 rating) or in shooting threes (2.3 made per game). If the Bearcats lost a contributor like Cumberland, they were going to have to start over, no matter how many other players decided to stay under new head coach John Brannen. They won’t have to now that he has opted to return.
With Cumberland back in the fold, it should take some pressure off the rest of the roster as well. Without him, contributors like Keith Williams and Trevon Scott were going to be asked to shoulder much more responsibility and although both players have a great deal of talent and will still be leaned on heavily during the 2019-20 season, it would be asking a lot for either to ascend to the level that Cumberland reached in his junior season.
Cumberland produced the highest single-season scoring mark by a Bearcat since Sean Kilpatrick was an All-American in 2014. Nobody else on the team averaged in double figures. The offense very literally ran through him, as he attempted 14.6 shots per game and had the ball in his hands for nearly a third of the time the Bearcats were in possession. Williams took 8.6 shots per game and Cane Broome was ranked second in usage rate (23 percent), but he has graduated. Speaking of the departure of Broome as well as Justin Jenifer, the Bearcats won’t be in as much trouble without a point guard because Cumberland can handle the responsibilities of that post as well as those of the top scoring option.
This news should also be a major boost for Brannen and the new offense he hopes to install at UC. Cumberland is an exceptionally talented offensive player and he could potentially be even better on a team that emphasizes offensive efficiency the way Brannen has in the past. Cumberland already took a major step forward as a junior by taking more threes, hitting more free throws and creating better shots for himself and others. He shot a career-best 38.8 percent from three and 77.3 percent from the foul line and had a player efficiency rating of 23.0, which, you guessed it, was also the best mark of his career. If the Bearcats pick up the tempo from the nearly stand still rate it ran under Mick Cronin, Cumberland should be getting even more chances to impact the game on the offensive end.
If everything comes together, this could end up being a major boost for Cumberland’s future as well. Despite being the best the AAC had to offer last season, Cumberland’s draft stock wasn’t especially high this season. It seemed like a late second round selection was the best he could hope for among this year’s class. However, with another year of dominating the AAC, especially if he can be even more productive and efficient, Cumberland could really improve his chances at getting a shot at the next level.
The Bearcats were preparing for all possibilities when it came to Cumberland’s decision. They were going to find a way to succeed without him and they were going to have a plan with him. As it stands, his return should yield benefits for everyone — except everyone on UC’s schedule.