The Cincinnati Bearcats finished the 2019-20 season 20-10 overall, and 13-5 in the American Athletic Conference, finished tied (with Tulsa and Houston) for first place. By process of tiebreaker, they were set to be the 1 seed in the conference tournament. Overall, despite many struggles and many issues, season one of the John Brannen era was a huge success. Brannen was able to lay the foundation for the future of the program. A future that continues to look bright.
On Wednesday, Cincinnati received a commitment from transfer David DeJulius, a former Michigan guard, who has two years of eligibility remaining. He is the second transfer to commit to the Bearcats this week joining Colgate grad transfer Rapolas Ivanauskas (immediately eligible). Those two guys are welcomed, experienced additions, to a team who has made 9 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
Bearcats lose two core players in Trevon Scott and Jarron Cumberland and also lose key one-year guys Jaevin Cumberland and Chris McNeal. The losses of Scott and Cumberland cannot be understated. Those guys were extremely significant to last year’s team and to the program as a whole. Scott became the glue, the heart and soul of the team and Cumberland, despite some difficulties, remained a prolific scorer, who was often in a position to do it all and he succeeded. Both men will be missed terribly.
But the program remains in great hands! The big name for Cincinnati in 2020-21 is Keith Williams. The junior wing averaged 12.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg. He has seen his scoring average go up every year. Williams, rightfully, entered his name in the 2020 NBA Draft. There’s no harm in that as he gets to talk to top NBA execs, who can evaluate his game and give him constructive feedback on his strengths and weaknesses. The expectation is that Williams is testing the waters for feedback and experience and will return to school for his senior season.
Williams’ athleticism and style of play is the perfect fit for Brannen’s up-tempo, ball movement system. Cincinnati playing in a 10th straight NCAA Tournament feels largely contingent on Williams’ status. But maybe not entirely, if the young and new guys are up for the challenge.
DeJulius’ status for next season is unknown, as no one knows what the NCAA transfer rules are anymore as far as who is forced to sit and who is eligible to play immediately. Ivanauskas can play right away and has NCAA Tournament experience from 2019. He was also part of two very good Colgate teams that last couple of seasons, so he is certainly battled-tested.
In addition to those two, Cincinnati has 4 incoming freshman as part of the nation’s #43 recruiting class (per 247Sports). That class includes some exciting players - Tari Eason, Mike Saunders Jr, Gabe Madsen, and Mason Madsen. The first three are all top 200 players nationally, with Eason ranked the highest at 120.
It’s also worth noting that DeJulius (107) and Ivanauskas (145) were also ranked top 150 out of high school, And that’s only the 2020 class.
This exciting class comes one year after Brannen, on very short notice, hauled in the #44 class (Zach Harvey, Mika Adams-Woods, Jeremiah Davenport). Harvey, a late signee, was ranked #49 nationally in 2019 and the #5 shooting guard. Harvey dealt with a foot injury that limited him in the early part of the season. His full potential has yet to be unleashed, but it’s there and once he gets rolling, it’s going to be fun to watch.
Adams-Woods started 19 games at PG, and despite the presence of incoming freshman Mike Sanders, should compete for a starting job again. Davenport played sparingly and battled several injuries, but in his limited time showed that he could be a spark off the bench as both a defender and a scorer.
2020 recruiting is still in flux, but if this ranking holds, it would be Cincinnati’s best recruiting class since 2014, when they were ranked 31st nationally. That class included some guy named Gary Clark.
After having the 31st best class in 2014, in Mick Cronin’s final four years, his four classes ranked 58 on average. Brannen coming in and signing back-to-back top 50 classes shows great improvement and shows his potential as well as that of the program.
In addition to Williams potentially returning and the three 2019 freshman, Cincinnati has two big (literally) players coming back.
One of them is forward Mamoudou Diarra, who averaged a modest 3.0 ppg, 2.8 rpg, but did average 7.0 ppg over the last 5 games. Diarra is a guy who really grew throughout the 2019-20 season. In November and December he looked completely lost and by the end of February, he looked like a guy who was unstoppable. His continued growth will be fun to watch. But also, the way Diarra plays is infectious. He knows his role - he isn’t the most talented, he isn’t a great scorer (though he did shoot 80% from three) - he is just an extremely hard working player with hustle and toughness. Those are the type of attributes, and Diarra is the type of player, you want rubbing off on 4 freshman and 3 sophomores.
Chris Vogt returns for his final year at center for Cincinnati. Vogt played for Brannen at Northern Kentucky, and transferred to UC before last season. Vogt finished the season averaging 11 ppg and 5.9 rpg, but really slowed down after a scorching hot start. Vogt was a double-double machine in non-conference play, but come January seemed to hit a wall. His experience and learnings from last season, plus experience with Brannen, will continue to come in handy.
Bearcats fans were disappointed by some recent “misses” from the transfer portal and in recruiting. Guys like Jalen Tate (NKU), Quincy Ballard (high school), Brandon Johnson (Western Michigan). It was hard to miss the anxiousness of fans, waiting for some good news on social media. But the additions of DeJulius and Ivanauskas are both great news. This whole freshman class is going to be awesome and the returnees all bring something different and special to the table.
John Brannen has his work cut out for him in 2020-21 in the best possible way. He pieced together last year’s team with a number of transfers and won 20 games and a championship. This year, his roster is loaded with talent and his system is already established now and in place.
Great times ahead for the Bearcats!