Williams will be given the keys to the offense this season after the departure of Jarron Cumberland, and I’m excited to see what the senior is capable of as the number one option. When he first came to UC, everybody talked about his raw athleticism which is a sight to behold when in transition, but I was afraid we were looking at another Shaq Thomas who never really improved nor did he fit in Mick Cronin’s slog of an offense.
However, Keith put my fears to rest when he took a big leap in his sophomore season by improving his jumper and defensive skills. He then followed this by tightening up his ball-handling last season which clearly improved his confidence as a guard in John Brannen’s motion-heavy offensive sets. Utilizing his lightning quick first step, Williams frequently made defenders look foolish using a mean jab-step or pump fake to blow past them for an easy two or a trip to the line where he shot 79.2% (compared to 70.7% the previous season), but he didn’t stop there. The Brooklyn native also peppered in an impressive post game where he utilized deft footwork, strength, and agility to gain an advantage over slower and/or smaller guards.
In order to take the next step, Keith Williams will have to become an elite ball-handler where he has the ball at the top of the arc in the waning minutes of close games and is breaking down defenders with a tighter crossover or creating space to shoot a jumper. When it’s tied 72-72 with 17 seconds left in the game, not only do I want to see Keith demanding the ball, I want the whole team to know that they need to give him the rock so he can go to work. Other things to look at are further development of his three ball which has really come a long way during his time at UC (his elbow no longer sticks out like it did during his freshman year), and he will have to keep his fouls at a minimum since he averaged 2.9 fouls per game last season.
The Michigan transfer has been the talk of the town during the offseason largely because of the attention surrounding his waiver. Luckily, his waiver was approved and he is immediately eligible. After watching his high school and Michigan highlights, DeJulius’ strength is the first thing that jumps out at me. While he is only 6’0”, he is a solid 190 lbs and he uses all of it to make space while driving to the basket. He shot 36% from three, 72% from the line, and has a nice floater to top it off.
Although DeJulius looks good on paper, his spatial awareness and experience may be his most valuable assets for this team. He always knows where he and his teammates are on the court. I’m not sure if he’s a bonafide floor-general, but it’s clear he uses his eyes to keep his turnovers at a minimum. He doesn’t seem to be much of a distributor as evidenced by his 1.5 assists per game last season, but as a sixth man, he was never asked to be Steve Nash. Playing on the road in the Big Ten is no easy task and although there will likely be no fans at games this year, DeJulius’ experience in foreign territory will no doubt come in hand.
I’m very intrigued to see what happens with Mika Adams-Woods this year. After snatching the starting point guard job from Chris McNeal last season, Adams-Woods is in a precarious position with the DeJulius transfer. I’d like to see him at the two-guard position to begin the season, but then you begin to worry about a lack of size on the perimeter especially with teams like Houston and Memphis which have bigger guards who could present major matchup issues.
Make no mistake, Mika is an asset because of his efficiency (49% from 2, 37% from 3, 77% FT), decision-making, and length on the defensive end. Unless John Brannen is planning to go with a four-guard offense, Mika and DeJulius will likely be battling for minutes. I do wonder about the offensive potential of a pure pace-and-space lineup with Mika and DeJulius running the show and someone like Mamoudou Diarra or Tari Eason at the center position. It’ll never happen because of size mismatches and rebounding disadvantages, but it’s nice to dream, isn’t it?
Harvey is probably the biggest question mark on this team. A top 50 recruit out of high school, many expected a better season out of Harvey than what we got last year. He never broke double digits in scoring, and frequently looked lost on defense and passive on offense. There were some bright spots, most notably in the home matchup against Wichita State when he had 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals and also his clutch three-pointer in the final minute of regulation at East Carolina.
Due to his inconsistent play, Harvey found himself in and out of the rotation. This year, he will firmly be in the rotation as he will spell Keith Williams when Williams needs a breather. Expectations are higher this year and Harvey will have to deliver. He strikes me as the type of player that needs the opportunity to be presented to him in order for him to take it. Last year, he always deferred to Cumberland, Williams, or Tre Scott. I wish he had a more aggressive attitude (like that of Jeremiah Davenport), but when he looks around and doesn’t see those three players on the court, he will rise to the occasion.
Part 2 covering Jeremiah Davenport, Gabe Madsen, Mason Madsen, and Mike Saunders Jr. will be posted tomorrow.