Lee and Briscoe’s draft decision leave UK in familiar situation

Guard Tyler UIis and guard Isaiah Briscoe high five during the game against the Alabama Tide at the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN, on Friday, March 11, 2016. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff.

Anthony Crawford

With all the dominoes of the off-season finally falling, what UK is left with is something not too unfamiliar to the program— a team with a dangerous guard trio matched with an untested and thin frontcourt. 

If that sounds familiar, that’s because it is exactly what UK just experienced last season. And while the pieces may have changed, the potential of next year’s team is not that far removed last season’s.

Just looking at the two rosters side-by-side, the first thing you notice is a sophomore point guard returning to play alongside two highly touted freshmen in the backcourt. While last season Tyler Ulis filled the role as the key returning guard and Isaiah Briscoe and Jamal Murray fit in as the two freshmen guards, the same narrative follows next season with the return of Briscoe and departures of Murray and Ulis.

Briscoe comes in next season as the experienced guard that will likely see a lot of time playing alongside two incoming freshmen in De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk.

While the backcourt trio of Ulis, Murray and Briscoe mainly hurt teams with its ability to put up points between Ulis’ playmaking and Murray shooting, next year’s trio looks dangerous for what its size and length can accomplish on the defensive side of the floor.

With a backcourt that stands at 6’3” across the board, look for UK to have the length to smother any opposing guards on the perimeter.

All three guards also thrive on offense using their length to get to the basket and finish through contact. Outside shooting may be a concern, but both incoming freshman have shown the ability to shoot the ball well from outside. Monk took home the three-point championship trophy from the McDonald’s All-American event, so his potential to be a consistent outside shooter is there.

Following Briscoe’s announcement came the news that junior Marcus Lee would withdraw his name from the NBA Draft  but would be transferring from UK. This news hurt that much more when taking into account that UK had just missed on the top center prospect Marques Bolden in next year’s recruiting class.

The miss on another frontcourt addition in the recruiting class left a big hole for UK that Lee would have been able to fill nicely. 

Now UK only returns three frontcourt players in Derek Willis, Isaac Humphries and Tai Wynyard. UK does bring in a decent crop of big men in its recruiting class headlined by five-stars Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.

Out of the three incoming frontcourt players, only Adebayo is expected to play solely on the interior. However, the forward stands at only 6’9” which makes him more suited to play along another big man in the power forward slot.

The frontcourt also resembles last year in that it is largely untested. Willis comes in with the most experience, but he only started receiving meaningful minutes towards the back-half of this past season.

While Adebayo is regarded as a more can’t-miss prospects than Skal Labissiere was, fans saw what happened when Labissiere failed to meet expectations. UK was able to get by because of the presence of senior Alex Poythress and Lee, but now with them gone, a lot is riding on UK’s incoming players to perform.

While limiting next season to the potential of this past season may seem unfair, but UK was widely regarded to be a Final Four team at the start of last season. The rough transition to the college game felt by Labissiere hurt that goal along the way, but behind Ulis and Murray, UK still found a way to enter March as a major contender before falling early to Indiana.

Next season, UK will need to have more consistency inside with Adebayo and Willis, but the depth behind them is worrisome.

The team may look different next year, but head coach John Calipari will likely come across the same issues he did last year. He just hopes the personnel change is enough to ensure a different outcome.