The Cincinnati Bearcats undertook quite the roster overhaul this offseason. Besides the expected departure of graduating seniors Cane Broome and Justin Jenifer, changes at head coach led some other key contributors to look elsewhere to continue their college basketball careers. Although there has been plenty of talent brought in to fill the gaps, some of the players who stuck around could be in for a real promotion. One player who fits that description perfectly is Mamoudou Diarra.
During his first two seasons with the Bearcats, Diarra hasn’t been given much to do. During 2017-18, if you blinked you would have missed Diarra’s time on the court, as he logged only 46 minutes across seven games in a season in which he redshirted. At the time, the Bearcats were spoiled with frontcourt depth, which left very little space for the 6’9” Diarra. However, even last year, after Gary Clark and Kyle Washington graduated, Diarra still found himself on the bench far more often than he was on the court.
Things are much different as the 2019-20 season nears. Diarra is one of five players on the current roster who played in at least 10 games for the Bearcats last season. Jarron Cumberland, Keith Williams, Trevon Scott and Trevor Moore are the others and they’ve all made a significant impact on the floor and should be expected to maintain those responsibilities this year. Diarra is in a different situation. The time is now for him to take advantage of his status as an elder statesman for this program.
There is plenty of evidence available that he can fill a significant role in the frontcourt and replace the departure of players like Nysier Brooks and Eliel Nsoseme. Diarra still didn’t have a ton of playing time last year, but across 20 games, he recorded 137 minutes and was able to fit in some impressive work when he was on the floor. His player efficiency rating of 19.2 was fourth on the team and he produced positive totals in offensive (0.2) and defensive (0.3) win shares, even if they were rather meager due to his limited minutes.
Now just because he produced some positive results on offense, that’s not to say he was an exceptional offensive player. That part of his game still needs quite a bit of work. With a true shooting percentage of 46.2 and an effective field goal percentage of just 41.7 last season, he could stand to be more efficient with his shots, particularly since he isn’t a player who will be stretching the floor. Assuming most of his looks are near the basket, if Diarra can improve on his ability to finish around the rim and knock down some short and even mid-range jumpers, he’ll boost his production and his chances to be a regular member of John Brannen’s rotation.
That last part is especially true if Diarra continues to be an effective player on the boards and on defense. Although Brannen may not be as hyper-focused on defense as former head coach Mick Cronin, that doesn’t mean he won’t reward players who can defend effectively. Diarra has posted defensive ratings below 100 in each of the last two seasons. Again, the caveat that he did not play all that much must be mentioned, but that is still a promising sign, especially since Diarra also ranked second on the team in block rate (7.7 percent) and total rebound rate (16.6 percent) last season.
Even with the small sample at our disposal, Diarra has already provided evidence that he is prepared to be a constant defensive force in the paint and a player the Bearcats can rely on to clear the glass. With just a few improvements on offense, which could certainly come just from getting more in-game reps, Diarra will have the chance to be more than just a roster holdover and finally become a regular contributor.