Backcourt ready to ball for Cats in 2016

Men’s basketball media day

By Chris Angolia

For the second straight year, coach John Calipari will have a sophomore point guard at the helm of his team. Isaiah Briscoe has been given the reigns to this season’s team after spending last year alongside Tyler Ulis who departed for the NBA.

On last year’s team, it was clear that the team was going to go as far as the backcourt could take it with Ulis, Briscoe and Jamal Murray. Now, with Ulis and Murray gone to the NBA, Calipari is tasked with bringing another pair of freshmen into the starting rotation as he did last season.

This year’s duo of freshmen set to be thrown into the rotation is a bit different from Briscoe and Murray last year. While Murray was more of a shooter and Briscoe was a physical, defensive guard a year ago, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk are showing signs that they can do it all.

While last year’s backcourt was still one of the best in the nation, there is no reason to think that this one will not be better when looking at the trio from an overall standpoint.

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“I don’t think anybody can guard us,” Monk said about the guards. “We are all fast, we can all shoot, we can all get to the lane. It is just going to be nice to have all that.”

The speed aspect of the backcourt is something that will play a big part in defining the Cats’ season. Transition basketball is something that all three guards have thrived in no matter the setting, and although the three guards last season did get out in transition, this year’s trio will be doing even more of that.

As Ulis did last year, Briscoe is set to be the primary ball handler for a team that will be looking to get out and run at any given opportunity.

“I think we are going to get out in transition a lot. And I think speed is our strong point this year,” Briscoe said before the season. “With the three guards, Me, Malik (Monk) and Fox, whoever gets the rebound, any of us can bring the ball up. We are all unselfish and we are all just playing.”

The offensive ability of the backcourt is off the charts, but what many may not be realizing is how good this backcourt can be defensively. Again, it all starts with Briscoe. Just as Ulis was a problem for opposing point guards last year on defense, Briscoe is going to be the one setting the tone defensively in the backcourt.

This year’s team is already getting recognition defensively, ranked 6th by in defensive efficiency, a stat in which the Cats finished last year ranked 39th. Although it may not be entirely because of the aggressiveness and athleticism that Briscoe, Fox, and Monk have on the defensive end, those three know how difficult they are going to make it on other teams.

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“I would hate to have us three guarding you,” Fox said in the preseason. “It doesn’t matter which one it is, it’s going to be a good defender – with our speed and athleticism it will be a lot of steals and a lot of breaks.”

With their abilities on both ends of the floor, it is clear that UK will boast one of the nation’s top backcourts alongside Kansas’ duo of Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason III, and Duke’s trio of Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson.

“Our (expectations) of course is to be the best backcourt,” Fox said. “We are going to go out and prove it, ­— We want to show people we are the best.”

From his days at Memphis with Derrick Rose, to his time here at UK with John Wall, Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, the Harrison Twins, Ulis and Murray; Calipari has been able to constantly get the most out of his guards on both sides of the ball, and it is looking like things will be no different with the the guards this year.