Mid-Season Player Grades: The Starters

After a 82-74 win at home over USF, the Bearcats have come across a pretty nice break that leads up to playing at Wichita State on Saturday. Until then, however, I felt it would be a good time to grade each player’s performance through eighteen games. Due to the length of this article, it will be split into two separate articles, the first of which will be on the starters and the second will be on bench players.

Justin Jenifer

In my opinion, Justin Jenifer was easily the most underrated player on last year’s roster. He knew his role, that being a pass-first point guard who could bury a shot from deep when he had the chance, and fit perfectly into a starting lineup that featured four top-tier scorers. With the Bearcats’ roster changing pretty significantly during the offseason, Jenifer came into this season knowing he would carry a more significant role.

With the loss of last year’s top three scores, he’s had to help carry the offensive load more than in recent years, and Jenifer has definitely risen to that challenge. He’s upped his scoring numbers from 4.8 points a game last season to a solid 8.1 points per game this year, and even set a new career high in points with 18 against Tulane.

Surprisingly, his assist numbers have risen pretty significantly this season, jumping from 2.5 assists per game last year to 3.6 so far this season. He’s also cut down on turnovers this year, leading the nation in assist to turnover ratio for the majority of the season (he’s second right now with 5.82).

Probably the biggest aspect of his game that’s improved, however, is his ability to knock down shots from long range. As of now, Jenifer sits at second in the conference in three point percentage.

Overall, Jenifer has improved in several categories and will need to continue to stay consistent in his play for the Bearcats to make a run this season.

Grade: B+

Keith Williams

With four talented guards in Justin Jenifer, Keith Williams, Trevor Moore, and Cane Broome, there was definitely some conversation leading into this season as to who would get those two starting spots. While Justin Jenifer’s spot at the point has remained untouched, Cane Broome started at the shooting guard spot in the season-opener against Ohio State. After a disappointing loss against the Buckeyes, Mick Cronin decided to bench Broome in favor of sophomore Keith Williams against North Carolina Central.

Since then, Williams has gone on to have a breakout year and establish himself as the clear second option behind Jarron Cumberland. Williams’ minutes have more than doubled from last season, and with that, his scoring average has skyrocketed from 3.1 points per game in his freshman year to 11.2 points per game so far this season.

Through eighteen games, he’s shooting just over 50% from the field and has improved drastically behind the arc, going from a dismal 14.8% last season to a respectable 34.1% this year. His work on the glass and defensively have also improved, grabbing 1.4 offensive rebounds per game and 1.3 steals per game.

All in all, we’re witnessing something pretty special in Keith Williams this season. He’s a guy who has totally changed the outlook for this season and may end up being the most vital part of this year’s squad.

Grade: A

Jarron Cumberland

The moment Jacob Evans announced his departure from the University of Cincinnati in favor of the NBA, Bearcat fans knew Jarron Cumberland Cumberland would need to take a big step up.

Cumberland came into this season being one of two remaining starters from last year’s lineup and the only returning player to have averaged more than ten points per game. It was pretty clear leading up to this season that Cumberland would need to carry this year’s team offensively, and he’s done that pretty well so far, averaging 16.3 points per game, and scoring the most points in a game since Troy Caupain in 2016 with 34 against USF.

The most impressive aspect of his game so far has been his ability to knock down shots from long range at an high percentage. He sits just behind Justin Jenifer for second in the American Conference in three point percentage with 42.9% which is incredible for a guy who averages 5.4 three point attempts per game.

He’s also stepped up on the defensive end, upping his steal per game averages from last season by 0.4. Although Cumberland has done his job pretty well so far, his inconsistency is almost guaranteed to cause a few problems throughout conference play.

While he’s looked very comfortable being the lead scoring option during the majority of the season so far, scoring over 20 points in eight times throughout the first eighteen games, getting into foul trouble early or just going dormant offensively has been an issue at times this season. Against UNLV, Cumberland experienced both, collecting five fouls and only scoring three points on one for five shooting, which nearly attributed to an early season upset. Then once again against ECU, a very similar situation happened, but this time the Bearcats couldn’t escape the upset.

While Cumberland has definitely carried his weight thus far, Jarron will need to improve upon his ability to work through slumps throughout the course of a game and be a consistent scoring threat for this Cincinnati team.

Grade: B

Trevon Scott

With Gary Clark’s departure to the NBA, it was clear Scott would need to step up in a major way. In my opinion, whether or not Trevon Scott could take on an increased role and flourish in the Bearcat offense was probably the most important aspect of this season.

In some ways, Scott has been below or just around average. He’s failed to expand his range, which is something many viewed as an aspect of his game he would need to improve upon. His field goal percentage has also dropped pretty significantly, but that tends to happen when taking on a much larger scoring role.

Even with these things, however, Trevon has been an incredibly vital part of this year’s Bearcat roster. He’s started in all 18 games thus far, and with that increased role, has tripled his points per game and nearly doubled his rebounds per game from last season with 9.6 PPG and 6 RPG.

What has really stood out about Scott’s play so far has been his ability to tandem with Nysier Brooks in the paint. Scott’s high post and mid range offensive play compliments perfectly with Brooks’ strength and low post offense, and it’s shown throughout this season.

Overall, Scott has improved in a few areas while staying stagnant in a few others, but has nevertheless been a very important part of this year’s Bearcat starting lineup.

Grade: B-

Nyiser Brooks

Along with Scott, Nysier Brooks was a major key to the 2018-19 season leading into this year. With Kyle Washington’s two years as a Bearcat finishing up, Brooks would need to be the next great center in Cincinnati’s long history.

So far, he’s stepped up pretty well. Unsurprisingly, his minutes this season have skyrocketed in addition to the majority of his other stats as well. With his new role as a starter, Brooks has doubled his minutes from last year and with that has upped his scoring from a measly 2.6 points per game to a solid 8.8 points per game. His shot selection has clearly improved as well, shooting a smooth 61.8% from the field.

Brooks, known for his lanky 6’11” build, has also grabbed 5.4 rebounds per game this season and 1.6 blocks per game this season which are both major improvements from last season.

In my opinion, however, Brooks’ biggest improvement on the court has easily been his ability to knock down free throws. In his first two seasons, he was at best mediocre at the line, but since then, he’s knocked down 67% from the free throw line.

As I said earlier in the portion about Trevon Scott, he been able to gel pretty nicely with Scott in the front court, and overall has had a really solid season manning the center spot.

Grade: B+

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