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Kentucky Basketball Preview: Isaiah Briscoe

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The supreme preview of arguably the best defensive guard in college hoops and a big reason why UK should be in the Final Four.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky Media Day Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

#13 Isaiah Briscoe

Position: Guard / Class: Sophomore

High School: Roselle Catholic

Hometown: Newark, NJ

2016 Kentucky NBA Pro Day Measurements: 6’2.5’’ w/ shoes; 216 pounds (by the way, that’s a solid 14 pound increase from last year); 6’8’’ wingspan; 8’2’’ standing reach; 31.5’’ NSV; 37’’ MV

Per-Games: 32.2 minutes; 9.6 points; 5.3 rebounds; 3.1 assists; 1.9 turnovers; 1 steal

Shooting: 44%FG; 48%2FG; 14%3FG; 46%FT

OVERALL OUTLOOK, INTANGIBLES, AND BEYOND ‘16-’17

Isaiah Briscoe is a hard-nosed and aggressive guard who offers much in the way of defense, rebounding, scoring around the rim, maximum effort, and offense creation. His only notable weakness is one that is potentially fixable (fixed?) — shooting.

Here are highlights from last season, which illustrate some of his floor strengths.

Also — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — Briscoe has clearly embraced a vocal leadership role for the ‘Cats this season and appears to be quite capable of excelling in that capacity. See also this, this, and this.

As I initially write this on Columbus Day, I anticipate that the “Briscoe-leader” angle is likely to pervade the preseason college basketball ether as the primary UK narrative (note: correct!), its only competition being the firepower of yet another #1 group of freshmen.

During Kentucky’s most recent NBA Combine event, his voice was often the loudest. John Calipari identified him as a principal of the group, and even took his advice into consideration during the occasion’s practice portion.

Finally, Briscoe is adept at making those around him better; especially the guards (De’Aaron Fox), and chiefly when it comes to setting a sterling example for both practice and in-game work ethic. He is a comprehensively high motor basketball player.

As far as Briscoe’s status as a ‘Cat beyond 2016-2017, my advice is to enjoy him while he lasts. I think his performance last season, even with the shooting difficulties, was worthy of a late second round selection and if he can even marginally improve on his shot, he could sneak into the latter third of the first.

STRENGTH: DEFENSE, ESPECIALLY AROUND THE PERIMETER

Briscoe was, and remains UK’s “stopper.” As far as the eye test goes with Cal-Era UK guards, he is nearly peerless.

He especially shined against taller guards and small forwards last season, most notably around the perimeter. Although this is a team-focused video and doesn’t display all of his work from the game, consider his efforts against both Grayson Allen (a 6’5’’ SG) and Brandon Ingram (a 6’9’’ SF), both on- and off-ball.

STRENGTH: REBOUNDING

One of the more unenlightened “talking points” regarding last year’s Wildcats was that they rebounded poorly as a group.

False. The ‘15-’16 ‘Cats were not premier glassminders, especially on the defensive end, but they were markedly better than most fans thought overall.

Recall that there were 351 Division I squads last year, and ponder these rankings:

#39 in Total Rebound Percentage (53.6)

#53 in Total Rebounding (1,283; 38.9 per game)

#15 in Offensive Rebounding Percentage (37.2)

#25 in Offensive Rebounds (431) and #31 in Offensive Rebounds Per Game (13.1)

And these numbers are in spite of an underwhelming effort on the boards from the frontcourt (Marcus Lee and Alex Poythress lead the squad at 6 per game).

Why the decent numbers then? Using common sense, Occam’s razor, Crean’s saber, whatever, the primary reason was Isaiah Briscoe (and Jamal Murray, but, come on, this is a Briscoe preview).

He pulled down 181 rebounds last year (5.3 per game), the second most for any guard during the Calipari Era (behind Murray with 186). One has to go back to the ‘05-’06 season, when Rajon Rondo racked up 209, to see those numbers eclipsed by a guard.

STRENGTH: CREATING OFFENSE FOR OTHERS AS AN OFF-GUARD

Though Tyler Ulis occupied the point guard position for 36.8 minutes per game last season, Briscoe was still able to display his PG chops dating back to his Jersey high school days.

Specifically, his skill at creating shots for others and making good passes was remarkably evident at times last season — see the 7:3 A:TO Ratio against USF, 7:2 versus OSU, 6:0 against Mizzou, and 6:1 against Alabama, among several other outstanding performances.

His 107 assists during ‘15-’16 are tied (with Eric Bledsoe in ‘09-’10) for the seventh best single-season performance during the Cal Era. On his own, Briscoe occupies the seventh best single-season per-game assist average during the same span, with 3.1.

Remember that he compiled those dime tallies while sharing a backcourt with the Cal Era leader in assists in a single season, Ulis, who had 246. FYI, John Wall is second, with 241 in ‘09-’10 and third is Marquis Teague in ‘11-’12 with 191.

STRENGTH: AT-THE-RIM SCORING

Examine Briscoe’s shot chart from last season, ignoring the red (I’ll get to that later). He was good for 63% at the left side of the rim, better than both Ulis and Jamal Murray. According to Shot Analytics, Briscoe scored 190 points in the area of the rim. That’s impressive.

He also consistently displayed the skill level, aggression, and handles to get to the rim at an elite level last season, especially in transition. What might have been even more impressive was his patience as a penetrator; there was no drive-and-fling (evocative of freshman Andrew Harrison or Archie Goodwin) from the freshman. Rather, Briscoe wisely picked high percentage spots and, if it ever appeared like he was forcing something, passed the ball out to the perimeter to a teammate with an open look or an eye toward further facilitation.

WEAKNESS: SHOOTING

Returning to talking points, one of the most obvious, yet incomprehensible (based on his high school career — he shot 46% overall, 34% from 3, and 72% from the line), was Briscoe’s alarmingly poor shooting from anywhere outside of a few feet from the basket.

Refer back to his shot chart, and you see that he shot 59% from the paint...and 17% everywhere else. Remember that he was 14% from the perimeter and 46% from the line, as well. Not good.

From another perspective, though he was third on last year’s team in both field goals attempted and field goals made, he was sixth in points per 40 minutes and per 100 possessions.

Obviously, missing too many shots can hurt one’s team, but it also has collateral effects. For one, defenders rarely bodied Briscoe outside of ten feet from the basket. That, too often, resulted in a packed interior that hindered UK’s offense.

Even so, shooting is a weakness that Briscoe can overcome. His form looked much-improved at the aforementioned NBA Pro Day, both to my eyes, as well as Fran Fraschilla’s and Seth Greenberg’s. And it wasn’t that long ago that Briscoe was a proficient shooter in high school.

He shot often, and well, at the Blue-White game — 39 points on 14/30 overall (47%), 2/6 from 3 (33%) and 9/12 from the line (75%). I couldn’t find a shot chart to indicate exactly how many points were scored at the rim as opposed to on jumpers, but a casual viewing off the scrimmage clearly illustrates that he has begun to reach his potential as a jump shooter. It was a hard-fought scrimmage and he had to earn each and every bucket.

Though he clearly had distribution on his mind more than scoring, Briscoe still shot prudently and well in the Clarion scrimmage, finishing with 11 points on 3/5 overall (60%; including 1/2 from 3) and 4/5 from the free throw line. He tallied 7 assists (to 3 turnovers) and shot 66% from the floor against Asbury for 11 points.

There’s also Jerry Tipton’s suggestion that Briscoe can undergo a Buddy Hield-like transformation on the offensive end of the floor. I don’t know about that, but I do believe that his shooting ceiling is considerably higher than what he’s demonstrated in the blue and white during during actual competition to this point.

IN SUM

No hyperbole: even with his shooting woes (which I’m now cautiously optimistic are behind him), Briscoe is a top-tier college basketball player.

While he is not UK’s most talented player, and probably won’t be the squad’s MVP in the conventional sense, he is arguably the most important piece of this team due to the demands on him as an experienced team leader, steadying presence, and definite 32+ minute per game all-around contributor.

It’s my opinion that he’s up to the task and will make a national name for himself this season before leaving for the NBA.