Xavier fans follow the University of Cincinnati. That’s not to say that Musketeers fans are closet Bearcat fans or lend credence to the absurd “little brother” theory UC fans console themselves with come late in the season; it’s a simply statement that when your hated rival is less than a 5k away, you know what is going on with them. This offseason, the big news was that Mick Cronin departed to the coaching graveyard at UCLA.
Cronin was a great lightning rod for Xavier fans ire. He was self-aggrandizing, a massive hypocrite, coached hideous basketball, and tried to fight a Xavier icon in JP Macura. When it comes to wanting more reasons to hate an institution, he was a pipe dream. John Brannen, the Bearcats new coach, is not that guy. His rise from a low major that he made a contender to coaching in a mid major conference is the start of every coaches dream.
If Brannen’s teams at NKU are any indication UC may actually attempt to play offense this year. (I’ll give you a moment to let that sink in). The Norse weren’t the most talented of squads, but they moved the ball aggressively, tried to work it inside, and focused on getting good looks quickly. Defensively the Norse lack of size hurt them, but the indication seems to be that Brannen prefers long defensive possessions where his teams don’t gamble.
There are a lot. Any time a coach leaves, a program not well grounded in promoting from the inside can suffer a serious talent loss. Cane Broome, Justin Jenifer, and Nysier Brooks were fourth, fifth, and sixth on the Bearcats in scoring, third, fifth, and sixth in minutes, Brooks was second in rebounds, and Broome and Jenifer were second and third in assists. All three are gone to graduation and transfer. Rotation players Eliel Nsoseme, Rashawn Fredericks, and Logan Johnson all also left the program.
Any discussion of the Bearcats has to start with Jarron Cumberland. Cumblerland went for 18.8/4.4/3.6 on a .404/.388/.773 shooting line. He’s UC’s best player, he shoots the most, he uses the ball the most, and he nicely slots into the most sports hatable role with Cronin gone. I promise, you won’t even have to try. Keith Williams (9.9/3.2/1.1) and Tre Scott (9.3/6.9/1.5) anchor a pretty solid returning group for Brannen. The Bearcats rotation depth has taken a hit, but the talent at the top is still very good.
UC’s official roster lists just eight players. It’s safe to assume that’s not accurate, and some cobbling together of internet sources shows they will actually be filling a bench this year. Samari Curtis was supposed to be the highlight of this incoming class, but he left for Nebraska, the logical next step for a kid from Xenia who had previously committed to two schools in southern Ohio. Four star guard Zach Harvey now headlines an incoming class that is comprised of three other two stars, including local player Jeremiah Davenport, and three starish Mika Adams-Woods.
Where Brannen has attempted to fill the gaps is in grad transfer signings. Jaevin Cumberland, yes, they are related, comes from Oakland where he shot 39.9% behind the arc and 86.7% at the line last year. From Valpo comes seven footer Jaume Sorolla who essentially was just very tall last year. Chris McNeal last played two seasons ago for New Mexico, where he scored effectively, albeit as a poor outside shooter for a guard.
The Bearcats have the talent to be a contender in the AAC again, but there are a lot of new pieces for a new coach to work in. Jarron Cumberland is going to carry the team, and he’ll need a lot of help from Williams and Scott to make them successful. They are about what you’d expect from the biggest fish in a mid-major pond.