With 5 regular season games remaining, the Cincinnati Bearcats are pushing for their 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. But regardless of what happens in the remaining few weeks of this season, the future is extremely bright for Cincinnati in the coming years.
First year coach John Brannen’s style of play is vastly different than previous coach Mick Cronin’s. Not criticizing Cronin - Cincinnati won a whole lot of games and a couple of conference championships playing in a way that prioritized defense and slow tempo, grind-it-out offense. Brannen’s offense emphasizes pace and ball movement. Cincinnati has scored 80+ points 9 times this season and are averaging 73.2 ppg.
When this season eventually ends, whether it’s the first or second weekend of the NCAA Tournament or ends with cutting down the nets in Houston in early April, the Bearcats will move forward without seniors Jarron Cumberland and Trevon Scott. Both men have meant so much to the program and especially to the 2019-20 team.
Yet, the Bearcats will be fine in the future.
For proof, look no further than the end of the game against East Carolina this past Sunday. With Cumberland on the bench with 5 fouls, Cincinnati was led by Scott and four players who will return in 2020-21 - juniors Keith Williams and Chris Vogt and freshmen Mika Adams-Woods and Zach Harvey. Those four will form an excellent nucleus for next season.
Williams is second on the team with 12.5 ppg and Vogt is third in scoring with 12.4 ppg and second in rebounds with 6.1 rpg.
This year got off to a rough start, with bad losses, close wins, and many struggles in November and December. Chalk it up to players have an unfamiliarity with each other and with their coaching staff, who were implementing a new system.
The good and encouraging news, as evidenced by the 10-3 conference record, is that those struggles are now behind them. The team is clicking and the players are now comfortable with one another, as are the coaches. The feeling out process is complete and this team is ready to roll into March and into the future with a solid foundation.
In addition to those four, freshman Jeremiah Davenport returns as does junior Mamoudou Diarra. Davenport has played limited minutes this year, but was extremely productive (8 points) against Memphis last week, helping provide a spark off the bench.
Their 2020 freshman class is very exciting and is ranked 38th nationally and 2nd in the AAC. The current class includes:
- Mike Saunders Jr - 3-star point guard, who ranks 190th nationally and #4 in Indiana
- Tari Eason - 4-star power foward from Seattle, who plays for former NBA star Brandon Roy’s high school team, ranks 119th nationally, and #2 in the state of Washington and the #25 PF
- Gabe Madsen - 3-star sharp shooting forward from Minnesota, who ranks 188th nationally and is the #36 small forward
- Mason Madsen - Gabe’s twin brother, ranks #8 in Minnesota (1 spot behind Gabe) and 415th nationally
Due to many departures via transfer, the Bearcats still hold a few open scholarships, with room to add a potential grad transfer or two for depth and experience.
A more traditional lineup may look something like this
PG - Mika Adams-Woods
SG - Mike Saunders or Zach Harvey or Gade Madsen
SF - Keith Williams
PF - Tari Eason
C - Chris Vogt
Plenty of options at the two-guard spot, with the other two being first off the bench. But imagine a small-ball lineup with Harvey or Saunders at the two plus Madsen in there, instead of Vogt? Depending on the matchups, you could potentially get away with a 6’8 Eason as your “big man”. This would give Cincinnati two ball handlers, a shooter, and two extremely athletics forwards.
No matter what happens, the possibilities are endless and there is a lot of flexibility, including going completely position-less at times.
The Bearcats still have a lot they can accomplish in 2020 - second regular season conference championship in three years, third straight conference tournament championship, and a deep NCAA Tournament run.
And the present success just makes the thought of the future even more exciting.