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2020-21 UC Basketball Preview: The Perimeter - Part 2

A look at the guards and wings for the Bearcats this season

NCAA Basketball: Memphis at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremiah Davenport

Health is the first priority for Jeremiah Davenport. His 2019 offseason was cut short by a torn meniscus which required surgery, but he worked hard in rehab and was back with the team in time for the season opener. The Cincinnati native’s 2019-20 season also ended prematurely when he tweaked the same knee which also required surgical intervention in March 2020.

At 6’7”, Davenport has great size and length for a wing player, but one might worry about his ability to defend on the perimeter due to a lack of lateral quickness. He seems to have a nice shooting stroke and he does not lack for confidence. John Brannen has stated that Davenport is a player they need to rein in rather than light a fire under. I always prefer those types of guys on my team because they are usually the most ferocious competitors.

Davenport’s best game came against the Memphis Tigers when they visited Fifth-Third Arena in February. Although the Moeller product was posterized by Precious Achiuwa, Davenport was undeterred. Instead of pouting and getting discouraged, he went right at Achiuwa on the next play by driving into his body and converting a contested floater which probably should’ve been an and-one.

Brannen will find a way to fit Davenport into the offense, but it probably won’t be exclusively on the perimeter. I could see Coach Brannen trying Davenport at the four to see if he can present any matchup problems or open up the lane by stretching the defense.

Mike Saunders Jr.

Undersized guards with inconsistent jumpers usually make me nervous, but Saunders is an exception because of his raw speed and agility. He is a blur in transition and possesses elite lateral quickness which should dramatically help his defense transition to the college level. The most impressive thing about his speed is that it does not seem to negatively affect his decision making. During his senior year at Wasatch Academy, Saunders accumulated 100 assists to only 35 turnovers, good for a 2.86 assists-to-turnover ratio in 28 games. His feet rarely move faster than his brain which is something that former Bearcats guard Cane Broome had trouble with during his stint at UC.

Saunders’ ability to defend the passing lanes will be evident immediately in his freshman season at UC. A menace on the defensive perimeter, Saunders averaged more than two steals per game during his high school senior season. While Saunders will have his fair share of points off turnovers, he will also get caught gambling too far out and opposing players will backdoor him for an easy bucket every now and then. As the season goes on, he’ll learn to take calculated risks and those backdoors will be extremely rare in the second half of the year.

His jumper has improved quite a bit as evidenced by a 39% shooting stroke from three during his senior year (up from 33%), but he has a slow release which won’t translate well to the college level. When college defenders start crowding him, he becomes a drive-and-kick guy or he’s taking it all the way to the hole. While he may be quick enough to create enough space for a jumper, his slow release gives the defender time to recover and heavily contest his shot. Overall, we’ll see how it goes. The improvement in high school is a sign that he is willing to put in the work. Hopefully that work pays off.

NCAA Basketball: Cincinnati at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Gabe Madsen and Mason Madsen

In terms of offensive ability and potential, I am probably most excited about the Madsen twins. Their games are very similar which is why I included both of them in this breakdown. They both have an excellent offensive feel for the game. The Madsens know the gaps to penetrate when attacking a zone, when to back cut or set a pick if the defense is playing man, and they always seem to square their shoulders when shooting even if they are off-balance. They just make good decisions with the ball in their hands. Gabe Madsen is the taller twin (and higher rated recruit) and seems to project to the two or the three, while Mason Madsen is a combo guard. Both twins shot over 40% from three while Mason converted 92% of his free throws compared to Gabe’s 89%. Don’t expect them to get the yips in the college ranks (unlike a certain #5).

Defense is a different story. Now, the Madsen twins aren’t bad defenders, but they need to get rid of bad habits. They have to learn to play defense with their hips and feet more than their hands. I’m sure Brannen has been instituting drills that emphasize keeping the butt down and staying on the toes while staying in front of a ball-handler. They don’t need to become lockdown defenders, but they must improve their positioning. Knowing when and where to rotate on defense goes a LONG way toward making an offense hesitate which can mess up the flow of their sets and ruin their rhythm. An on-time rotation can lead to a double team in the corner or a deflection that forces the offense to reset or results in a turnover.

Post players Chris Vogt, Mamoudou Diarra, Tari Eason, and Viktor Lakhin will be previewed next.

Juncta Juvant