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Is Isaiah Briscoe Catching Too Much Heat?

What’s going on with Isaiah Briscoe?

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Georgia Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not a secret that Kentucky Wildcats sophomore Isaiah Briscoe has been struggling as of late. It has become commonplace to expect the following from him:

  • A whistle for walking
  • A whistle for stepping on the out-of-bounds line under the goal
  • A missed wide open jump shot
  • Driving the ball into traffic and shooting an ill-advised shot while being guarded by two or more opponents

Things seemed to have come to a head on Saturday at Georgia when Briscoe was involved in a scuffle with a Bulldog player. It appeared as he pulled the opponent down while the two were intertwined, then both players got up and started jawing back and forth.

Luckily Briscoe was tagged with a common foul instead of a flagrant one. He ended the day with nine points, six rebounds, two assists, four turnovers, and five fouls. He was also -7 on the +/- scale which was the lowest of any player on the team. After the game, John Calipari joked that he told the sophomore that he was glad he fouled out.

At the beginning of the season, we were all of the belief that Briscoe would be the leader of this team. He was coming into his second year, and he had played the most minutes in 2015/2016 out of all the returning players. He had tested the NBA waters and learned he had to improve his shot in order to improve his NBA draft stock.

But there have been times when he hasn’t been a great leader. At times he is demonstrative towards the officials, visibly and vocally upset at some of the calls. Out of all of the players, he is the one most likely to bark back at Cal. He is visibly frustrated with his production.

As his disgruntlement mounts, his numbers have suffered, including his minutes. Dominique Hawkins and Mychal Mulder have been performing extremely well off of the bench. Hawkins, in particular, has been a steady hand on offense as he looks to get players involved and only takes the shot if he is open. He is also, next to Briscoe, the best perimeter defender on the team. Mulder has the ability to knock down open threes, and his rebounding has been much improved.

All of this begs the question: Is it time to bench Briscoe? Kyle Tucker of SEC Country asked this question and he makes some compelling arguments:

Kentucky was much more poised (on Saturday) losing Briscoe — who hit 4 of 12 shots, missed all three of his 3-pointers, turned it over 4 times and nearly got in a fight against the Bulldogs — roaring back for an 82-77 victory. Freshman point guard De’Aaron Fox was the star, but both Hawkins and Mulder came up clutch, too.

They each scored 9 off the bench, with Mulder making three 3-pointers and Hawkins delivering 5 straight points to steady the Wildcats when Georgia made its first surge midway through the second half. The 6-foot Hawkins also out-jumped much taller opponents to tip a critical offensive rebound to Bam Adebayo with 1:26 remaining.

Tucker also points out that while Hawkins is trending up, Briscoe is trending down:

Hawkins has scored 19 total points in 45 combined minutes the last two games, hitting 6 of 11 shots and 3 of 6 threes. He plays lockdown defense and takes care of the ball: 52 assists, 12 turnovers all season. Mulder has hit 40 percent of his 3-pointers this season and is averaging 21 points per 40 minutes.

Briscoe, however, is regressing. After shooting 38.2 percent from 3-point range to start the season, he’s hit just 1 of 12 in the last six games. Over that same span, he has 26 assists and 22 turnovers.

What are the reasons for Briscoe’s lack of production? It’s a foregone conclusion that Briscoe, along with Malik Monk, Bam Adebayo, and De’Aaron Fox will all be NBA bound after the season concludes. Out of those players, Briscoe is the only one not on any mock draft boards for the first or second round.

Following what could have been a disappointing development as he watched both of his backcourt mates from last season get drafted, Briscoe is once again poised to watch his teammates in the Green Room on draft night.

Both Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis helped comprise one of the best backcourts in the country along with Briscoe. While both are in the NBA, Isaiah is still in college.

The same thing can be said about this season potentially. Monk and Fox are definitely going to be drafted somewhere in the lottery and most likely in the top ten. Briscoe isn’t even an afterthought even though he is once again a part of one of the best backcourts in the NCAA.

I don’t think Briscoe has any intention of staying another season. He wants to go. He may feel like the odd-man out as he watches the guys he plays with reach their NBA dreams. He did what he was supposed to do. He came back and worked on his shot. But the results have been less than satisfying.

Is Isaiah Briscoe pushing too much right now as the clock is ticking on his college career? Is he trying too much to impress NBA scouts instead of playing fundamental basketball?

There have been times this season when Briscoe has bailed Kentucky out down the stretch by hitting big shots and going on scoring runs of his own. He was vital against Vanderbilt, Alabama, and against Georgia at Rupp when De’Aaron Fox was out with an illness.

He got a triple double against Ole Miss, and he flirted with another one against Georgia the first time. He is one of the best rebounding guards in the country, and his free throw shooting percentage has gone up dramatically from last season. He is a great finisher around the rim and is a willing passer.

Is what we saw from Briscoe on Saturday an anomaly or was it the culmination of negative behaviors that have been building for a while? Is the thought of not being drafted too much of a distraction?

Whatever the answer, this team is much better when Isaiah Briscoe is playing at his best. But if Hawkins are Mulder are picking up the slack, and he continues his downward spiral, then Cal will do what is best for the team.

Maybe Briscoe needs to come to terms with the fact that while be may not he an elite NBA prospect, he could be a great four-year college player. It’s hard to be the grizzled vet at UK. Most people assume a player is a bust if he isn’t one and done.

Briscoe deserves the benefit of the doubt that he will fix whatever issues he has. Right now he is the whipping boy for much of the fan base, some of it fair while most of it is not, but the writing's on the wall and Calipari is letting the sophomore know that his play will not cut it now or in the tournament.