FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Razorbacks sophomore guard Isaiah Joe underwent an arthroscopic procedure to his injured right knee Tuesday morning, and in addition to missing the Auburn game later Tuesday he’s expected to be out indefinitely according to a media release from the University of Arkansas.
“As I mentioned in the press conference Monday, Isaiah did have an MRI on his knee,” Musselman said. “The results came back late Monday and it was determined Isaiah would undergo surgery Tuesday. He will not be at the Auburn game tonight so he can recover and begin rehabilitation.”
Joe (6-5, Fort Smith native) injured his knee during a brilliant 34-point performance that fueled the Hogs’ 76-72 come-from-behind win at Ole Miss on Jan. 11, and in Arkansas’s next game against Vanderbilt (just four days later) Joe was seen wearing a brace on his right knee. He played five of the last six games (he sat out the TCU game on Jan. 25 to rest the knee) with a noticeable limp as he was clearly limited physically.
In Arkansas’s first 15 games, Joe averaged 18.2 points per game (ranking top 5 in the SEC) while shooting 59-of-165 from 3 (35.8%) with six games of 20 or more points, including two games of 33 or more points. Just as significant, he was one of the best perimeter defenders in the nation, something that Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman talked about during various press opportunities.
In the five games he played while injured, Joe averaged 9.2 points (includes the first scoreless outing — during 21 minutes against Alabama on Saturday — in his 54-game Arkansas career) on a combined 13-of-47 shooting from 3 (27.7%). Joe’s lateral movement, ability to plant and change directions, flexibility, strength, and vertical athleticism were noticeably compromised at both ends of the floor.
“We’ve got to make sure he’s healthy, and that’s what’s bothering him right now, he’s not healthy,” Hogs icon and Fort Smith native Ron Brewer, Sr., said on Monday. “He’s not moving smoothly, he’s not stable enough with his shot because of the knee injury. Well, he’s got to realize he’s got to heal first for him to go back and play like he’s capable of playing. So that means you’ve got to take some time off. That will come, because shooting is something he’s been doing all his life. So, that (shooting ability) ain’t going anywhere. But what’s happening is, injury is there and he needs to get that taken care of.”
Even factoring in his recent dip in production and efficiency, Joe currently ranks 7th in the SEC in scoring at 16.0 points per game, his 72 makes from 3 is tops in the league, his 1.6 steals per game ranks 8th in the league, and his 82.5% shooting from the free throw line ranks 9th in the league. He’s also averaging 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 36.0 minutes per contest.
Also on Tuesday, Joe was among 10 college basketball players named as remaining candidates for the 6th annual Jerry West Award that goes to the nation’s top shooting guard at the end of the season. He was among 20 players on the preseason watchlist for the award, the winner of which will be announced in April following a shortlist of 5 finalists that will be released in March.
Joe has been named SEC Player of the Week once this season, sharing the honor with Kentucky’s Nick Richards after Joe put up a 24-point, 5-rebound performance in Arkansas’s 71-64 come-from-behind win at Indiana on Dec. 29. In that game, the Hogs erased an 11-point second-half deficit as Joe scored 18 of his points in the final 20 minutes.
Despite the injury, Joe was recently ranked No. 30 on Sam Vecenie’s Top 100 Big Board of 2020 NBA draft-eligible prospects (Vecenie is The Athetic’s NBA draft guru), and Joe was also projected to be selected 18th overall in the first round by CBSSports.com’s basketball analyst Gary Parrish in a 2020 mock NBA draft that was published on Thursday. Various mock drafts over the past year-plus have Joe being selected in the late-first-to-mid-second-round range should he choose to leave school after his sophomore season.
Joe was a preseason 2nd-team All SEC pick by the league’s coaches and media. He was named to the SEC All Freshman team a season ago after scoring 13.9 points per game while shooting 41.4% from 3. His 113 made 3-pointers marked the most in a single season at Arkansas and tied the freshman record in the SEC. He finished the regular-season as the league leader in made triples as well as 3-point shooting percentage. Joe was the first Arkansas freshman to start every game since Bobby Portis (2013-14).