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Basketball Season Coverage

Badet photo by AP, Bowden photo by .

Saturday’s Top 10: A WILD Football Friday, Bowden’s Announcement and a Matchup with Auburn

Badet photo by AP, Bowden photo by .

Badet photo by AP; Bowden photo by R. Michael Semple, Tribune Chronicle.

Normally gamedays begin by discussing the game, but today is different.  Yesterday I woke up to Ryan Lemond’s laugh.  The roster news didn’t end there.  We might even receive more football roster news before the day is done.  Here’s what happened and what could happen before the day is done.

1. Jeff Badet to Graduate, Transfer

Kentucky’s leading wide receiver is leaving the program.  Badet caught 31 passes for 670 yards and 4 touchdowns.  At 21.6 yards per catch, he led the SEC in yards per catch and was sixth in the nation.  What’s most problematic: Kentucky’s two fastest players on the 2016 team, Boom and Badet, left with a year of eligibility remaining.

It stinks, but it makes sense.  Badet was recruited into an Air Raid offense.  He struggled with injuries until his talents were finally validated this year, but in a run-first offense.  Even as Kentucky’s greatest homerun threat, getting 10 caches in a game is improbable.  The most any receiver had in a single game this season was when Badet caught seven passes against Miss. State.

It stinks, but it makes sense, and we wish him the best.

Moving forward, Kentucky has plenty of receivers ready to fill his spot.  Tavin Richardson, Jabari Greenwood and Kayaune Ross have adequate experience on the outside, and Garrett Johnson can be a speedy deep ball threat (just ask UofL).  Also, the highest-ranked recruit in the 2017 class, Javonte Richardson, plays his position.

2. UK Announces Seven Mid-Year Signees

Fifteen minutes after breaking the Badet news, Kentucky announced the addition of seven early enrollees: QBs Danny Clark and Walker Wood, WR Clevan Thomas, RB Bryant Koback, OLB Jamin Davis, and DBs Cedrick Dort and Lonnie Johnson.  Of the seven, JUCO safety Lonnie Johnson is the only one guaranteed to play immediately, filling the holes left by Blake McClain and J.D. Harmon.

Jamin Davis is Freddie’ favorite, but mine is Bryant Koback.  Koback’s play is reminiscent of Benny Snell’s.  He doesn’t run over people like Snell, but he plays with a low pad level, carrying his momentum forward whenever he’s hit.

Koback could have attained some HUGE offers, but was injured in just the fifth game of the season.  Prior to the injury, Koback rushed for 1,096 yards on 93 carries (11.78 yards per carry) and 21 touchdowns in just four games (more than 5 scores per game).  His highlights are not too shabby.

You can see highlights from of all seven early enrollees here.

3. Lynn Bowden Announcement

Before the craziness of yesterday, I planned on leading off with Bowden’s announcement.  Even with a home basketball game, the potential addition of Bowden is the biggest news of the day.  He’s that good.

I’ve ranted and raved about Bowden before, but you can’t say enough about Youngstown’s finest.  The No. 5 athlete in the nation is a program-changing player.  Just like Boom Williams, Bowden has the potential to bust open a big play on any given snap.  Bowden is set to choose between Penn State, West Virginia and the Cats.  If Ohio State stays away, Bowden will be in blue next fall.

Bowden said he’ll announce “around 1:45ish.”  Don’t wait around on your computer for the announcement like last Saturday.  Just download the KSR app (Google Play and iTunes), turn your notifications on and I’ll let the sound of Ryan Lemond’s laughter bring you joyful news.

4. Bruce Pearl Returns to Rupp

The former head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers is in his third season at Auburn.  This year the Tigers are 11-5, but I’m more focused on the coach than the players.  Pearl has a 2-7 record against John Calipari.  He’s never won at Rupp Arena, but the Tigers enter with a one-game winning streak over the Cats after last year’s win at Auburn Arena.

Even though he’s been a Tiger for three years now, this is still the first thing that comes to mind every time I hear Pearl’s name.

Getty Image

Getty Image

5. Quick-Hitters on Today’s Game

  • It tips-off at 4:00 on ESPN with Tom Hart, Kaylee Hartung and Kara Lawson Barling on the call.
  • The KSR Pregame Show begins at 1:30 on 630 WLAP.
  • Auburn is led by Mustapha Heron, a fourth team preseason All-SEC selection. Heron averages 16.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.
  • Auburn has two signature wins. They beat Oklahoma by four and defeated UConn by three in overtime.

More on the Tigers later today.

6. Go Behind-the-Scenes for Today’s Game

Drew Franklin is busting out the Snapchat machine to take you behind-the-scenes for today’s game at Rupp Arena.  From watching warm-ups on the floor to the City BBQ nachos, Drew will show you what it’s like to cover a Kentucky basketball game for KSR.  Take a pic of the pic below or add him at drew_franklin.

7. Watch Bamba Play Ayton After UK

After you watch your Kentucky Wildcats, grab a meal, then head back to your TV to see the two best post players in the country face off at 8:00 on ESPN.  DeAndre Ayton, the No. 1 player in the nation, is committed to Arizona.  Mohamed Bamba, the No. 3 player in America, first entered Cal’s radar after dominating Ayton in the first event of this year’s EYBL.  The 247 Composite gives UK and Duke a 50/50 shot at landing Bamba.

The Cats are also recruiting Bamba’s teammate, Cameron Reddish.  The No. 4 player in the 2018 class, John Calipari watched the Westtown teammates play on Wednesday.

8. Today’s Sports Schedule

With the NFL Playoffs beginning at 4:35, it’s a front-loaded college basketball schedule.

  • Noon: Trippers vs. Strippers on ESPN
  • Noon: UGA at No. 23 Florida on ESPN2
  • Noon: UConn at Georgetown on Fox
  • 2:00: No. 9 Florida State at No. 11 North Carolina on ESPN
  • 2:00: Oklahoma State at No. Kansas on ESPN2
  • 2:00: No. 15 Xavier at No. 12 Butler on FS1
  • 4:00: No. 10 West Virginia at Texas on ESPN2
  • 4:30: No. 1 Baylor at No. 25 Kansas State on ESPNU
  • 4:35: Seahawks at Falcons on Fox
  • 8:15: Texas an Patriots on CBS
  • 10:00: No. 21 St. Mary’s at No. 5 Gonzaga on ESPN2

9. You Need to start Watching Taboo

This week FX debuted Tom Hardy’s new show Taboo.  I will not geek, but let’s just say I’m glad I used my DVR.

Without providing spoilers, I’ll set the scene.  It’s London in 1814.  Many thought Hardy’s character was dead, but he returns from Africa for his father’s funeral.  His inheritance causes a split between Hardy and the East India Company.  Hardy’s badassery and the wonderfully created setting will make this show one of the best this year.  Hurry up and start it before you get too far behind.

10. Ali’s 75th Birthday Celebration Begins Today

Muhammad Ali would have turned 75 this upcoming Tuesday.  The Center bearing his name will host a four-day celebration beginning today.  There will be a service project with Ali Center staffers, a new Ali Art Tribute exhibit and free film screenings in the auditorium.  Today’s lineup features a documentary I’m ashamed I’ve yet to see, When We Were Kings. Ali Bomaye!

10:00 a.m.: Ali Rap
11:00 a.m.: When We Were Kings
1:00 p.m.: The Trials of Muhammad Ali
3:00 p.m.: Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World

Unfortunately, it will not be as star-studded as his 50th birthday celebration.


Calipari: Diallo will only play this year if it’s in HIS best interest, not the team’s

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 1.30.25 PM

Here we go, folks! After arriving in Lexington on Tuesday night, Hamidou Diallo is now practicing with the team. Check out this sneak peek of Diallo in practice, which @KentuckyMBB tweeted out minutes ago:

How perfect is it that they showed him hitting a jumper? Diallo is the best shooting guard in the 2017 class, but isn’t exactly known as a great shooter BUT MAYBE WE’RE WRONG. Predictably, John Calipari talked a lot about Diallo in today’s press conference, and when asked if he would play Diallo if Kentucky’s guards got into foul trouble, Cal said no, stressing that Diallo will only play this season if it’s in HIS best interest, not the team’s.

“I wouldn’t do it for me or the program. The only way that would happen is if it’s in his best interest. The situation wouldn’t matter. Up, down, sideways, it wouldn’t matter. It would be about him. What I know is what’s in his mind, and what I see, he needs to get squared away, let’s get your base set, and then come back and do your thing. That would be my recommendation if he asks me.”

Diallo will travel with the team but he will not dress, meaning his biggest impact will be in practice, where he can go against Kentucky’s guards.

“He can guard them, he can make them come every day and have to bring it because he’s a long, athletic player,” Cal said. ” I get to split up the group a little bit so we get a little six rotation on both sides, which is gonna be good. It’s his first time, he’s probably anxious and nervous. We gave him a couple of things that we’re doing so when we go up and down he can play those things and we can go against him, but if I had to imagine, he’ll look a little lost.”

Cal said he thinks any player that’s in Hamidou’s situation and can go to college early should because it will give him an extra semester to develop with the best training staff in the country.

“He’s going to get to work out, all the stuff that he needs personally, we can be about. You can really focus on what he needs and then kind of shove him into this stuff, let him have a feel for it and go from there.”

And now, for the $64,000 question: how does Diallo look so far?

“I don’t know, let me coach him one day and let you know.”

Fair enough.

Great Thursday morning practice allowed Calipari to go out and recruit


No one hits the in-season recruiting trail harder than John Calipari and one of the reasons he is able to leave Lexington so often is because his team can handle it. (And because he has unlimited access to private jets.)

Yesterday, Calipari called for a 7:30 am practice before his players’ second day of spring classes, so he could spend the afternoon and night in Missouri watching PJ Washington, Marvin Bagley and RJ Barrett.

The practice went very, very well, he told reporters today.

“We practiced yesterday morning and (Isaiah Briscoe) had them so ready to practice,” Cal said, when asked about Briscoe’s leadership. “My worry was that we cannot waste a day.”

If we can’t practice in the morning then I won’t travel. I’d like to get a travel day done because then I can see three kids and it saves me two or three days. When I walked in that morning at 7:25 a.m., the guys were clapping for me like I was late. He had them ready and we had a great practice, which shows me a lot about the team and his leadership.”

As for Briscoe, he is “getting closer” to being that floor general Calipari needs him to be, and yesterday’s practice was an example of that.

Duke or Louisville tomorrow?


The two programs Big Blue Nation hates more than anything will meet on one floor tomorrow afternoon when No. 14 Louisville hosts No. 7 Duke in Bankrupt Arena. Louisville is currently a four-point favorite in the game, but Grayson Allen’s legs will be flailing around, trying to trip up the Cards as each team seeks a much-needed ACC win.

Game time is set for noon o’clock, so Kentucky fans can watch the game before Kentucky and Auburn tip-off later in the day, should they choose to do so. This brings me to ask you, dear members of Big Blue Nation: Who the hell are we supposed to root for? Is it Go Cards to hurt the Blue Devils? Or is it Go Blue Devils because Louisville sucks?

As much as it pains me to say this, Go Louisville. A Louisville win only makes Kentucky’s resume look better at this point.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go throw up.

Notes, Quotes and Video from John Calipari’s Friday Press Conference

Notes, Quotes and Video from John Calipari’s Friday Press Conference


It’s Friday and that means John Calipari invited his favorite media members and Jerry Tipton into the Craft Center basement for a little conversation about the upcoming game. This time Calipari looked ahead to Bruce Pearl’s Auburn Tigers, who the Cats will meet for a 4 pm tip-off in Lexington tomorrow afternoon.

Some notes…


First, a brief statement about Bruce Pearl to lead things off.

The first question for Calipari was about his relationship with Pearl, to which he said, “We coached against each other a few times when I was at Memphis and then coaching here. (He) does a great job, mixes up the game. (Auburn) plays hard. They battle and fight. He’s good at what he does.”

Hamidou Diallo won’t play in dire situations, such as the early foul trouble at Vanderbilt.

No matter how bad Kentucky may need him one day, Cal will not throw Diallo into action to simply help the team in a time of crisis. Take for instance the early foul trouble at Vanderbilt last Tuesday night; Cal would not have turned to Diallo for help in the backcourt with De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Dominique Hawkins in foul trouble. If Diallo ever plays, it will be for his own benefit.

“The situation wouldn’t matter,” Cal said. “It would be about him. What I know, what’s in his mind, and what I see – he needs to get squared away, get his base set, and come back and do his thing. That would be my recommendation if you ask me.”

Diallo will not dress for games.

When asked if Diallo will suit up and travel for games this season, Calipari said he will go on trips but he will not dress.

If that is indeed true, there’s the answer to whether or not Diallo will play. It’s tough to get into games in blue jeans.

Calipari likes Bam Adebayo switching on guards.

“He is really good,” Cal said of Adebayo’s ability to switch on defense. “He bounces. He stays in the stance. He can guard every position.”

Cal also said of his big man, “He is getting fouled like crazy when he catches the ball. Like fouled. The last game was worse than this game, this past game. But, you know – and he is keeping his cool. He never changes anything. By the end of the year, he will be that guy. That is my prediction.”

In practice yesterday, Cal asked his team who is the hardest worker and all of them turned and pointed at Bam.

He told them, “There you go. My point is made.”

Auburn is a dangerous team to play.

“It’s just like Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt had some shots that they could’ve made, but they missed, and the game could have been different. I don’t think Auburn will hold the ball and then try to shoot it. He might – he’s done it in the past – but I don’t think he will. You knew Vandy was going to come down and take 20 seconds, move the ball and try to get a shot that way. They’ll probably press us some. One game I watched today they played all zone. They got in the zone and they stayed in the zone. They’re good. They’ve beaten teams, like Oklahoma. They lost to Georgia; had them down 16. They lost to Mississippi; had them down 15 or 16 and lost. They’ve been up big. They play active and they’re aggressive. It’s going to be a hard game. We lost to them last year, had to watch that game again and wanted to throw up.”

Kentucky is a 22.5-point favorite tomorrow

Kentucky opened up as a 22.5-point favorite in tomorrow’s game against a Danjel Purifoy-less Auburn team in Rupp Arena. Purifoy, the Tigers’ second-leading scorer, was ruled out for tomorrow’s game with a sprained ankle suffered last weekend.

Fun fact for those of you considering wetting the beak on this one: Kentucky has covered in five of the six games in which it was favored by 20 or more points this year. Do with that information as you please. It’s on the house.

The Cats are 11-2 against the spread at home this year.

Good luck, everyone.

John Calipari teased his podcast with Rick Pitino (again)

John Calipari teased his podcast with Rick Pitino (again)


The college basketball world has been dying to hear John Calipari’s podcast with Rick Pitino ever since Calipari announced its existence almost two weeks ago.

Two new Cal Casts — one with Dan Patrick, another with Geno Auriemma — have hit the interwebs since news broke of Pitino’s special guest appearance, as Calipari sits on the highly-anticipated interview a little longer.

Today, Calipari said he may wait another week if people continue to complain about the wait (looking at you, Matt and Ryan on KSR).

“Anybody else says, ‘When he’s doing it? I’m mad,’ then I may wait another week,” Cal said.

Whenever it does go out to the world, it has a lot of hype to live up to; hype that Cal has brought on himself.

Today he raised the bar a little higher, telling reporters, “There are some things that are around it that you’re going to want to hear. Everybody thinks, ‘Ah, it’s a love fest.’ Okay, okay. You’ll want to hear it.”

He also joked about a scuffle the two had while recording it.


LIVE: John Calipari previews Auburn


John Calipari and his favorite media friends are gathered at the Joe Craft Center to preview tomorrow’s game vs. Auburn. Enjoy a live stream of Cal’s remarks below, or check the site after for a full recap:

KSR LIVE CAM: Players preview Auburn

KSR LIVE CAM: Players preview Auburn


Drew Franklin is live at the Joe Craft Center to bring you today’s player interviews. Follow along on our Facebook Live stream below:

How bad is the SEC at basketball? (Really, really bad)

How bad is the SEC at basketball? (Really, really bad)

The crowd for Missouri/Auburn earlier this week (@EmptySeatsPics)

The crowd for Missouri/Auburn earlier this week (@EmptySeatsPics)

We all joke about the SEC being bad at basketball, but man, the SEC is really bad at basketball. This morning, Jon Rothstein tweeted that the SEC is a combined 1-30 against teams ranked in the Top 25 of the RPI. That one win? Kentucky’s over North Carolina last month. Ouch.

Curious where the league’s teams rank in the polls, RPI and KenPom? I was too, so I made this chart:

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 12.05.28 PM


Malik Monk’s NBA stock is soaring

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Coming in to this season, Malik Monk was ranked 15th on Chad Ford’s Big Board of 2017 NBA Draft prospects. Midway through the year, Monk has soared all the way to number four thanks to his ability to take over games and hang 47 on elite opponents, such as North Carolina. Yesterday, Ford and fellow draft guru Kevin Pelton debated the top picks in the draft, and both agreed that Monk should be in the top five come June.

“He has been the best scorer in college basketball as a freshman, averaging 22 points and shooting 41 percent from 3 on nearly eight attempts per game,” Ford said. “He’s one-dimensional, which I think probably affects his statistical projection, but Monk can score from everywhere. He’s shooting 74 percent at the rim and 49 percent on his 2-point jumpers. He’s possibly the best athlete in the draft as well.”

Pelton agreed.

“As compared to the other top prospects, Monk figures to be a more efficient scorer even with his projected 3-point percentage regressed heavily to the mean (35.0 percent). The effective shooting inside the arc you mention helps offset that, and rebounding is Monk’s only huge weakness statistically.”

I think John Calipari would agree with both of them that Monk needs to improve his rebounding. To read more, including a debate over who should go first in the draft (Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball), head on over to ESPN Insider.

[ESPN Insider]

Friday’s Top 10: Calipari & Ellen go recruiting, latest on Lynn Bowden & Alex Poythress scores 35

Friday’s Top 10: Calipari & Ellen go recruiting, latest on Lynn Bowden & Alex Poythress scores 35


Greetings, everyone, and happy Friday the 13th. If you believe in such things, I advise avoiding black cats, ladders, and opening umbrellas inside. According to the ever reliable internet, 17 million people suffer from “friggatriskaidekaphobics,” aka fear of Friday the 13th, which is an actual thing, I swear. If you’re one of them, we’re here for you. Just check out how happy our fans of the day look. They’re reppin’ the Cats atop a glacier in the New Zealand Southern Alps. Not bad, guys. Hope you enjoyed the helicopter tour.

Here’s what’s on today’s agenda…

1. John Calipari will preview Auburn

Fresh off the recruiting trail (more on that in a minute), John Calipari will meet with reporters at the Joe Craft Center this afternoon to preview tomorrow’s game vs. Auburn. Check the site around 2 p.m. for a live stream of his and select players’ comments, and shortly after for a full recap.

2. Yesterday, Calipari went recruiting

Cal went to the Bass Pro Shops Tournament of Champions in Springfield, Missouri to check in on UK signee PJ Washington and the top players in both the 2018 and 2019 classes, forward Marvin Bagley and wing RJ Barrett. The visit wrapped up a busy week of recruiting for Cal, who checked in on future UK point guard Quade Green on Wednesday, along with 2017 target Mohamed Bamba and 2018 star Cameron Reddish. That visit with Bamba must have gone well, because recruiting guru flipped his pick for Bamba from Duke to Kentucky, noting that Bamba’s friendship with Quade Green and the rest of UK’s 2017 class has put the Cats in a very good position.

3. Ellen went recruiting, too!



Can we talk about how much fun Ellen’s having this season? Not only is she in the stands to see Brad play every game, she’s even going on recruiting trips, which was unheard of in years past. Calipari joked on his podcast (for which Ellen helps him read ads) that before this year, Ellen was “Mrs. No” and now, she’s “Mrs. Yes.” The Caliparis even brought Ellen’s parents (pictured with them above) with them on this trip to Missouri.

You go, Ellen. Cute boots, too.

4. A quick glance at what Auburn’s been up to this season:

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Auburn started its SEC slate with a three-game losing streak before getting back on track with a five-point win over Missouri, although anyone who’s seen Missouri play this year will tell you that’s not much.

5. How much will UK be favored by?

Despite Bruce Pearl’s best efforts, Auburn is not good, so I’m going with a lot. As in 17+. After a hard-fought win over Vanderbilt in which the Cats never really looked in sync, I’ll think they’ll come out on fire and cover, maybe even double up if Malik Monk’s hot. Sorry, Bruce.

6. Lynn Bowden announces tomorrow

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Plenty of football recruiting to go along with basketball as we inch closer to Signing Day. Tomorrow, four-star athlete Lynn Bowden will announce his decision and all signs point to Kentucky. Yesterday, Freddie Maggard said Bowden is the most Randall Cobb-like prospect he’s evaluated since Randall Cobb, which is high, high praise. A source close to Bowden told me that Saturday should be huge for the Cats, barring a late offer from Ohio State. Stay away, Urban Meyer!

7. UK Hoops got a win last night

The ladies easily knocked off Alabama 71-54 in Tuscaloosa, thanks in part to a big night from Evelyn Akhator, who had a career-high 29 points and a season-high 15 rebounds. It was a much-needed win for Matthew Mitchell’s squad, who dropped out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since February 2010 on Monday. They’ll return to action on Sunday when they host Georgia at Memorial Coliseum. Tipoff’s at 3 p.m. ET and the game will be televised live on the SEC Network.

8. Alex Poythress scored 35 last night

Poythress continues to do good things in the D-League, and last night, scored 35 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Check out his first-half highlights below:

9. Have you voted for your NBA Cats today?

If not, stop what you’re doing and get to it. Fan participation make up 50% of the vote this year. Here’s how:

  • Go to and select your favorite players (you can vote once per day)
  • Vote through the NBA app (once per day)
  • Tweet, retweet or reply with an NBA player’s first and last name or Twitter handle with the hashtag #NBAVOTE. You can vote for up to ten players per day using this method.
  • Do the same thing on Facebook
  • You can even just Google search “NBA Vote All-Star” and it will pull up a special ballot.

10. KSR is live at Comedy off Broadway this morning

Matt and Ryan will hang out with The League‘s Steve Rannazzisi this morning and it’s open to the public, so start your weekend early and get down there. You’ve got one hour.

How Isaiah Briscoe matured into the leader Kentucky needs (and proved me wrong in the process)

How Isaiah Briscoe matured into the leader Kentucky needs (and proved me wrong in the process)

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

There was a moment in the final minutes of Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt in which Isaiah Briscoe proved to me that he’s a leader. It wasn’t just his play on the court, although that’s a big part of it; Briscoe had a career-high 23 points, 13 of which came in the second half when the sophomore guard put his team on his back and answered every advance Vanderbilt made, bullying his way to the basket. Without Briscoe’s points, Kentucky would surely have lost the game; however, I was most impressed by his leadership.

After Vandy missed a desperate three attempt, Malik Monk drove the ball down the floor with less than four seconds left only to be fouled hard by Nolan Cressler. Both Cressler and Monk crashed to the floor, and Monk popped right back up and turned to get in Cressler’s face. Briscoe sprinted over to Monk, slung an arm around his shoulders and turned him around to walk the opposite way. From there, Monk sealed the win with two free throws.

It was a small moment, but a meaningful one, especially to me, because I wasn’t sure it would ever happen.

Leadership in the John Calipari Era is a tricky thing. When you recruit the best of the best, more often than not, you end up with more than one alpha dog on your squad; whereas the Calipari era began with those alpha dogs exiting stage right after one season (John Wall, Brandon Knight), in the past few years, there’s been at least one elite guard that stays an extra year (Andrew Harrison, Tyler Ulis, Isaiah Briscoe). Calipari always builds his squads around those guys, and usually, it pays off; I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure it would this season.

As reporters and fans, we’ve been spoiled with some “great talkers.” Karl Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein come to mind as the obvious examples, with Karl constantly giving the “too good to be true” quote while Willie delivered thoughtful, unique answers that turned our keyboards golden. Given all the media training UK does, most players are polite during interviews, albeit a bit boring. Briscoe is a totally different animal. Maybe it’s the New Jersey in him, but Briscoe has no filter. If you ask a dumb question, he’s not only going to give you a look, he’s probably going to call you out. If you ask a question he doesn’t want to answer, he’s not going to answer it, something I learned first-hand and SEC Basketball Media Day earlier this year:

I wasn’t alone in this:

There are countless examples of Briscoe “being real” in interviews, and reporters even joked with him last month about how he occasionally gives them the same look he reserves for his teammate after stupid plays. Briscoe’s frankness rubbed me the wrong way for a while, but as I’ve seen his play elevate and been around him more often, it’s one of the things I’ve come to love most about him. Case in point: this answer to a question about how he keeps sight of the rim when driving to the basket.

See, there was that look, but instead of shutting down, Briscoe delivered a quip. Hilarious.

I realize that talking to the media has very little to do with leading your teammates, but I do think it’s important to point out that Briscoe’s just a different type of dude. At first, I thought that abrasive attitude might not carry over well to a bunch of five-star freshmen; however, as I’ve seen this team grow in recent weeks, I’ve also noticed that it’s Briscoe keeping them in check, even if it means holding them accountable for a dumb play, a potentially dumb decision (see above with Monk), or poor effort. In his own way, Briscoe is leading.

It couldn’t have been easy to follow in Tyler Ulis’ footsteps. Not only is Ulis one of the greatest point guards in UK basketball history, he’s easily one of the most beloved. Add in the fact that Briscoe, a point guard in high school, hasn’t even been the primary point guard or shooting guard since he’s been here and you can appreciate not only the sophomore’s adaptability, but his team-first attitude. You may remember Jerry Tipton trying to make that a story last year, asking Briscoe what it was like to be “the lesser of the three lights,” referring to Ulis and Jamal Murray.

“I don’t look at it like that. I think I contribute everywhere on the court. If I’ve got to score, if I’ve got to rebound, play defense — I just do everything. Like I said, Tyler and Jamal have been shooting the lights out of the ball and my assists have been going up, so I ain’t mad at that. I enjoy seeing my teammates shine. I think they deserve it, they work hard, so other than that, I’m just happy to be a part of what they’re doing.”

It’s no secret Briscoe wanted to join Ulis and Murray in the NBA Draft last year. Per the new rules, Briscoe tested the waters, received feedback, and despite reported offers from some teams to take him, decided to return to school to work on his shot. I’ve always thought one of the cruelest things about the one-and-done rule is the perception that if you don’t go to the draft after your freshman year, you’re not as successful as your peers that do; however, instead of sulking, Briscoe came back with a purpose, even if it meant sharing the court with two five-star freshmen. Briscoe’s feedback was to improve his shot, and he has. Check out his averages compared to last season:

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Briscoe’s shooting has improved by almost eight percent. His free throw shooting may be the most remarkable improvement, going from 46% to 74%. Even his outside shot has gotten better, something few of us could have dreamed of; Briscoe’s been 5-7 from behind the arc since the North Carolina game. Few people may have guessed this, but Briscoe actually has a higher field goal percentage than Malik Monk (51.3% to 50.4%). Who would have imagined that at the beginning of the season?

Briscoe’s improved shooting does three things: it improves his draft stock, it makes Kentucky even more dangerous, and it gives Calipari an example to point to of hard work paying off. Selfishly for Briscoe, that first one is great, but between now and April, the final two are the most important and he knows it. After watching Briscoe hit three three-pointers en route to Kentucky’s 42-point shellacking of Texas A&M, Aggies head coach Billy Kennedy said Briscoe’s shooting could be the key to the Cats winning the national championship.

“When he is making shots, that’s what we game planned to live with. When he’s doing that, they can win it all. I know Coach Cal doesn’t want to hear that, but when he’s a weapon offensively like he was today, I don’t know how you defend it.”

Coming off the crucial Camp Cal stretch, Briscoe said he spent hours of extra time in the gym with De’Aaron Fox working on shooting. Fox had one of his best shooting nights of the year at Vandy, connecting on 65% from the floor. This team may not have a conventional “Breakfast Club” ala years past, but Briscoe is doing his best to drag his teammates along with him.

Photo by UK Athletics

Photo by UK Athletics

Briscoe had one of his worst games of the season vs. UCLA. He missed ten shots, including all five threes he attempted, and turned the ball over three times. His lackluster energy prompted Calipari to call him into his office to talk, and whereas last year, Calipari likened such talks between the two to “pulling teeth,” Briscoe not only listened this go around, he accepted the blame.

“After the game, Coach called me into his office and he just told me like, ‘What happened today? You weren’t yourself. I didn’t see the energy or anything like that.’ Me, being the leader of the team, I had to accept it. I told him, ‘Yeah, I didn’t bring energy.’ I felt like that one was on me.”

Briscoe feels so comfortable in his role as leader that he often suggests ideas to Calipari, such as using Mychal Mulder in a four-guard lineup as a solution to the tricky four spot. Calipari’s experimented with it off and on, but Briscoe continues to be both Mulder’s advocate and mediator when it comes to Cal; for a freshmen who bristled at criticism at times last season, that is incredibly mature.

“I’m the leader of this team,” Briscoe said. “I’m trying to keep everybody on board and trying to get Mike better.”

In turn, he has Calipari’s full trust.

“He’s not the issue. He gets it and he knows,” Cal said of Briscoe’s leadership after the Vandy game. “He has a will to win. He’s—all the stuff that he needed to work on, he has. From his free-throw shooting to his 3 to his handle. His assist-to-turnover ratio is ridiculous. So I’m proud of him.”

As someone who has happily been proved wrong, so am I.

UK Athletics

Kentucky Can’t Keep Switching Ball Screens

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

John Calipari is set in his ways on a few things.  He despises playing zone defense, he doesn’t run set inbounds plays to score and he prefers to switch on ball screens.  We can no longer accept the latter.

In a perfect world, you switch every screen because that’s the easiest way to play defense, but you must have elite defenders for it to be successful.  Calipari’s been blessed to have exceptional athletes in the post that can step out and defend on the perimeter.

Anthony Davis, the National Player of the Year, could do it.  Willie Cauley-Stein could do it in his sophomore season and during his First Team All-American junior campaign.  This is what happens when Bam Adebayo defends on the perimeter.

Bam got embarrassed, but it’s not his fault.  He’s doing what he’s told.  Even though Kentucky’s comeback effort was valiant, it was not enough to erase the six-point deficit with 1:45 to play.

Switching a post onto a guard in crunch time is one big reason why Kentucky lost at Louisville.  Switching a post onto a guard in crunch time could have, and probably should have, kept Kentucky from winning at Vanderbilt Tuesday night.

Down four, it was any easy call for Bryce Drew: give the ball to a shooter and use whoever Adebayo’s defending for a pick-and-roll.  A 55 percent three-point shooter got an open attempt, but at least it wasn’t as embarrassing as what happened at Louisville.


Kentucky is lucky LaChance is not as good as Quentin Snider.  The problem is that neither are that good.  However, Joel Berry is.  Trailing by five with under four minutes to play, ‘Ol Roy drew up the same play and you’ll never believe what happened.

Berry’s three started a 10-2 run, giving the Tar Heels a three-point lead with 1:20 to play.  Luckily, the team was bailed out by Malik Monk’s unbelievable 47-point performance.

During last night’s call-in show, John Calipari reflected on the win at Vanderbilt.   “You learn what you did well that worked, and you learn some things you better not repeat.”  Switching every ball screen should not be repeated.

There are two simple solutions:

1. Hedge and Rotate

Because very few post players can defend guards on the perimeter, this is the preferred method at every level of basketball.  When Kansas comes to town in two weeks, you will not see Landen Lucas guarding De’Aaron Fox on the perimeter.

The principle requires team defense and knowledge of personnel.  Let’s use the UK-Vandy matchup as an example.  Here’s what happened in the game, as so eloquently illustrated by Drew Franklin.


If UK hedged, Bam Adebayo would step up and show hard to take away the three, and Fox would fight over top of the screen because LaChance is a 55 percent three-point shooter.  (Against a non-shooter, Bam’s hedge would be more horizontal instead of vertical, taking away penetration.  Fox would then slide beneath the ball screen and slow down the screener’s cut to the basket before returning to his man.)

In the scenario above, Derek Willis would slide over to take away the pass to Kornet, leaving Briscoe responsible for the two shooters away from the ball.  Facing pressure from Adebayo and Fox, LaChance’s chances of passing to either of Briscoe’s opponents is slim to none.

Instead, Bam was put on an island and LaChance only needed to make a subtle move to get Adebayo on his heels.

2. Trap

Trapping ball screens is ideal under certain circumstances, once again, depending on personnel.  UK’s personnel favors the trap more times than not.  The best asset UK’s perimeter defenders have is quick hands.  Fox, Monk and Briscoe average a combined four steals a game.

Using the same scenario, Kentucky’s guards are better at on-ball pressure than Riley LaChance is at dribbling through a double-team.  Anticipating the pick-and-roll, Bam and Fox would jump it immediately, forcing LaChance to attempt to either split the double team or pick up his dribble, likely resulting in a turnover, or even better, a run-out for two easy points and a six-point lead.

Instead, LaChance knocked down a three to turn it into a one-point game.  Luckily, the Cats got a dunk by Fox and four clutch free throws down the stretch from Monk to ice the game.

Switching has worked well throughout Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, but it’s pretty clear it will not work this year.

Kentucky has only had four games decided by ten points or less.  Down the stretch in three of those games, Bam Adebayo was defending a guard on an island, resulting in points for the opponent.  Kentucky’s elite scoring guards bailed them out to win two of those three games.

As long as Kentucky continues to switch ball screens, opponents will use pick-and-rolls with whoever Adebayo is defending to get an open shot in the closing minutes.  By the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around, Kentucky can’t afford to exclusively rely on the guards’ scoring ability down the stretch.

Fox, Monk named Sporting News midseason All-Americans


The Sporting News released its two midseason All-American teams today and the website named De’Aaron Fox a first-team selection.

Fox is joined by UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, Villanova’s Josh Hart, Kansas’ Frank Mason III, and Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan on the first team.

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, Freshman guard

Key stats: 16.7 ppg, 6.4 apg, 47.1 FG pct

Overview: There are going to be people who’d prefer if there’s a Kentucky freshman guard on the first team that it be Malik Monk. But the problem with that is that Fox is Kentucky’s best and most influential player, the one who makes the team functional and the one who makes it dangerous. As he has discovered his jump shot appears to have limits — he still is only 4 of 32 on 3-pointers, but his shot from 16 feet has been falling — Fox has only become more efficient. And no one, not even Ball, advances the ball as quickly and punishes opposing defenses in transition at the same level. [The Sporting News]

Then on the second team, Malik Monk is one of the five honorees, along with Dwayne Bacon of Florida State, North Carolina’s Joel Berry, Duke’s Luke Kennard, and Johnathan Motley of Baylor.

Malik Monk, Kentucky, Freshman guard

Key stats: 21.7 ppg, 50.4 pct FG, 41.0 3-PT pct

Overview: Monk has been an indispensable scorer for the Wildcats since he delivered 23 points on the big stage at Madison Square Garden in the Champions Classic win over Michigan State. Monk was such an overwhelming offensive force in high school, and he has such an easy time creating a shot, that it has been a challenge to teach him proper shot selection. His coaches also have wanted him to attack the rim more. After earning two or fewer free throws in six of his first 10 games, he’s gotten five or more in five of the past six. He’s learning. That’s a problem for everyone else. [The Sporting News]

Kentucky is the only program with two midseason All-American selections.

Meanwhile, Josh Hart took the midseason Player of the Year award and Coach of the Year went to Scott Drew at Baylor.