(photo courtesy of Carlos Herriot)
Jarron Cumberland has been the face of the Cincinnati Bearcats Basketball program for the last two years. He has been the scorer the team has been looking for since Sean Kilpatrick graduated, he has been the AAC player of the year, has played in three NCAA Tournaments and also won the American Athletic Conference Tournament MVP. But now, something just doesn't seem right with the Bearcats star player.
After Mick Cronin moved on to UCLA and John Brannen took over as the UC head coach, The Bearcats had a lot of questions. Between a new system, a new group of players coming on to the roster and a new staff the Bearcats had to face a lot of issues they hadn't had to face in years past but the one thing that Bearcat fans leaned on was that they still had Jarron Cumberland. Cumberland tested the NBA draft waters this summer before deciding to return to school for his senior year in hopes of taking the Bearcats where they haven't been in a long time, but then things began to unravel.
On November 14th the Bearcats hosted Alabama A&M for their third game of the 2019-2020 season. As media arrived at Fifth Third Arena that evening we learned that Cumberland wasn't going to be suiting up that evening. Later on, in the post-game press conference, we learned from Brannen that he sat Jarron due to a "coaches decision." After being asked multiple times what lead to the decision, Brannen just continued to say it was a coach's decision.
November 24th, the Bearcats played Bowling Green in the second round of the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Cumberland hit the game-winning basket in the first round against Illinois State. The Bearcats lost that game in Overtime and saw limited minutes from Cumberland. According to the Athletic's Justin Williams, Jarron Cumberland sat the final 8 minutes of the second half and the first minute and a half of overtime. In this case, Brannen said Jarron was pretty beat up and his toe and ankle were bothering him. Cumberland did not play in the final game of the Paradise Jam against Valparaiso.
Since then Jarron Cumberland has had a 3/12 shooting performance against UNLV, 3/8 against Vermont, a game in which Cumberland left early with a hip injury and then in the crosstown shootout against Xavier, the biggest game of the season Jarron Cumberland was 4/14 from the field scoring just 11 points while struggling to defend Xavier's Naji Marshall who scored 31 points in the game on 12/22 shooting. Granted Jarron wasn't guarding Naji the whole game, but Marshall made sure Cumberland wasn't a major factor in this season's performance.
But then, Cincinnati hosted Colgate in their bounce-back game after the loss to their in-city rival. Colgate was just in the NCAA tournament the season before and got off to a good start this season, but this was a game that the Bearcats and Cumberland should win.
The Bearcats were leading Colgate 66-64 with 08:08 seconds left on the clock when Colgate's Will Rayman has his shot rejected by Cincinnati's Keith Williams but Rayman recovers the shot and enters the easy layup to tie the game. Tre Scott then inbounds the ball to Jarron Cumberland who with 4.6 seconds remaining in the game throws a 3/4th court heave that misses the rim and leads to his cousin Jaevin Cumberland being called for a questionable foul putting Justin Richardson of Colgate on the foul line with 2.1 seconds remaining to sink his first free throw and give Colgate the upset victory at Fifth Third Arena. After the game, Coach Brannen spoke with the media and said that Jarron didn't know what the score was and that's why he took the shot that he took. It has been compared to the Cleveland Cavaliers J.R. Smith forgetting the score in game 1 of the 2018 NBA finals against the Golden State Warriors.
Through the injuries, the difficulties with his new coach this has been a tough season off the court for the reigning American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. But on the court, we haven't seen the Jarron Cumberland we have become used to seeing night in and night out. According to Sports Reference's College Basketball page, Cumberland came into the Colgate game averaging 13.9 points per game while shooting 35% from the field and 26% from the arch. Last season Cumberland averaged 18.8 points per game while shooting 40% from the field and 39% from three-point land. Last season Jarron shot 77% from the free-throw line and averaged a rebound and assist more than he has so far this season (4.4 to 3.3 rebounds per game and 3.6 to 2.6 assists per game).
Now Jarron Cumberland has only played in seven games so far this season and has battled through a ton of issues, but this is a trend that is hurting the Bearcats season so far. Cincinnati is 6-4 and on a two-game losing streak, but they have blown leads in multiple games down the stretch and now have two very difficult games to end their non-conference schedule against Tennessee at home on Wednesday and Saturday in Chicago against Iowa, the team that eliminated Cincinnati from the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
We are a third of the way through the regular season and the Bearcats are struggling to find some consistency. Can they get the Jarron Cumberland they need to get back on track?