Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball team enters year two of the John Brannen era in 2020-21. Brannen coached the Bearcats to a 20-10 season in his debut, that featured plenty of ups and downs. One thing that has for sure been an up since his arrival is recruiting.
Cincinnati has the 43rd ranked recruiting class nationally for 2020, after signing the 44th ranked class in 2019, on very short notice (both rankings per 247Sports).
Seniors Keith Williams and Chris Vogt are both going through the NBA Draft process, but are both expected to return to a roster than includes Zach Harvey, Mika Adams-Woods, Tari Eason, Gabe Madsen, Mike Saunders, Rapolas Ivanauskas, and maybe David DeJulius. Cincinnati has a chance to be a top 25 team and a top contender in the AAC once more, in their bid to appear in a 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament.
Despite winning the AAC Tournament in 2018 and 2019, the respective recruiting classes the years prior were a bit uneven.
This article is NOT meant to be a “shot” at former coach Mick Cronin. It is simply meant to call out, in hindsight, how poor some recent recruiting classes were. It’s unfair to suggest these players may not have developed or emerged with more years from Cronin, or even Brannen, but instead we judge them on what we know and saw.
2019 - Samari Curtis
Before Cronin’s departure in 2019 for UCLA, and before Brannen arrived and signed three players as part of his 44th ranked class, Cincinnati had just one commit - 2019 Mr Ohio Basketball, Samari Curtis.
Curtis initially committed to Xavier, before backing out and signing his letter of intent with Cincinnati. He asked out when Cronin left and signed with Nebraska.
8 games and 49 minutes (14 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assists, 2 turnovers, 5 fouls) later, Curtis left Nebraska and entered the transfer portal. For now, he is expected to play for Evansville in 2020-21.
Who knows what would have happened with Curtis had he stayed home, but given the potential of Harvey, the flashes Jeremiah Davenport showed in limited minutes off the bench, and the fact that Adams-Woods started 19 games at point guard, I don’t think there’s any regrets about how 2019 turned out.
2018 - Logan Johnson, Rashawn Fredericks, Prince Toyambi, LaQuill Hardnett
For Cincinnati, 0 of the 4 members of the 2018 class, from just three years ago, are no longer enrolled in the program. Mick Cronin’s final recruiting class was ranked 61st nationally and 2nd in the AAC. T
Logan Johnson was the one guy who left after 2019 that I felt a little disappointed by. Sure, his 2 ppg seems underwhelming on paper, but he had toughness and was an excellent defender. However, with the Bearcats’ new style of offense, I’m not sure his style would have fit. He was immediately eligible at Saint Mary’s in 2020. His FG % dropped by 47% to 30% and he played under 7 minutes per game.
Rashawn Fredericks had exciting potential, after averaging 17 ppg and 10 rpg in JUCO at Motlow State in 2017-18. He was a highly sought after transfer as the 4th ranked JUCO. Unfortunately, the chemistry with him and Cronin never developed and he was deemed a poor fit. He averaged 2.3 ppg and 2.2 rpg and was on a path to transfer regardless of what happened with the head coach. Fredericks sat out at UAB last season and has since transferred again, playing his final season with James Madison next season.
Prince Toyambi unfortunately entered the transfer portal last week. Toyambi redshirted as a freshman and sat out 2019-20 due to a serious heart condition. There were questions of whether or not he would ever play again, but an independent doctor has apparently cleared him for action - it just won’t be as a Bearcat.
LaQuill Hardnett was the 8th ranked player in Maryland in 2018. Like Toyambi, he redshirted in 2018-19 and then chose to transfer when Brannen was hired. He committed to Buffalo, where he was immediately eligible. Hardnett played 30 games, averaging 11 minutes per game, and scoring 2.8 ppg, while grabbing 2.8 rpg.
2017 - Keith Williams, Mamoudou Diarra, Trevor Moore, Eliel Nsoseme
Williams has a chance to be the star of the show in 2020-21. His status for the season is TBD as he currently goes through the NBA Draft process.
Diarra had a slow start to his development, despite being ranked in the top 200 nationally (196) and the 3rd best player in South Carolina. He really emerged in the second half of 2020. He always had hustle and heart, and now he has an improved ability to rebound and score. He is, after-all, an 80% three point shooter.
Trevor Moore regressed each season at Cincinnati, going from 3.4 ppg to 2.3 ppg in 12 minutes as a freshman and sophomore. In 2019, he played 6 minutes per game, in 6 games, and averaged 1 ppg, before deciding to enter the transfer portal. At the time, the loss of Moore hurt simply because he was an inexperienced body, but in hindsight, the extra scholarship is probably more significant then his presence on the roster. He will play for Morgan State in 2020.
Nsoseme did play 10 minutes per game off the bench as a sophomore in 2018-19, but never was able to elevate his game to that next level. He kind of felt like a guy who just gave Cincinnati minutes, but never made a significant contribution. The #1 recruit out of Canada in 2017, will play for Georgia State in 2020-21.
In a normal world, Johnson, Moore, Nsoseme would be upper class-men leaders on the 2020-21 Bearcats with Hardnett and Curtis perhaps with valuable supporting roles. Instead, we live in a better-than-normal world, where Cincinnati’s roster is full of young, high potential players who fit the exciting style of coach Brannen.