Observations: Kentucky’s Marcus Lee is ready for major jump as junior

Marcus Lee (USATSI)
Kentucky junior forward Marcus Lee will have a bigger role this season for the Wildcats. (USATSI)

There were coaches who would have cut off their pinky toe to get a commitment from Marcus Lee out of high school — seriously. The 6-foot 9 jumping jack was a McDonald’s All-American in 2013 and could have went to any college he wanted to, but he went to Kentucky because he wanted to play with the best of the best and play on the sport’s biggest stage.

Lee has never played more than 20 minutes in a college game during the first two years of college career and that has a lot more to do with the players in the Wildcats’ program than it does with Lee’s abilities. In the past two seasons, Kentucky has had Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Dakari Johnson logging minutes up front, but now all of those players are gone except for Poythress.

Lee will be primed to to step into a bigger role as a junior and if you need a reminder of what he’s capable of go back to the 2014 Elite Eight against Michigan. With Cauley-Stein out due to injury, Lee came off the bench to score 10 points, grab eight rebounds, and block two shots in 15 minutes. Kentucky wouldn’t have advanced to the 2014 Final Four without him.

DAYTON FLYERSPierre’s first-semester suspension could hurt NCAA chances

It’s no secret than non-conference games in November and December ultimately dictate the type of resume that teams in the Atlantic 10 can build for the NCAA Tournament and Dayton’s ability to make hay during the first two months of the season is going to be significantly harder without Pierre, who will miss the first semester due to suspension. The 6-6 forward is the Flyers’ leading returning scorer and rebounder from last year’s team and his absence means it’s going to be that much harder for Archie Miller’s squad to pick up the quality wins it needs early.

Dayton has three games in the Advocare Invitational in Orlando during Thanksgiving Weekend including an opener against Iowa as well as a road game at SEC contender Vanderbilt on Dec. 9. Those are the types of games this team needed to win if it wanted to put itself in good standing for the NCAA Tournament prior to the start of conference play. Another thing to remember about Dayton? Despite going 25-8 last season, the Flyers only earned a spot in the First Four once the brackets were announced. Why? Only two of Dayton’s 25 wins were against teams that were selected to play in the NCAA Tournament — Ole Miss and VCU.

PROVIDENCE FRIARSBullock is best Big East newcomer nobody is talking about

People all over the country are going to highlight Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson, and Georgetown’s Jessie Govan when they talk about the best freshman in the Big East next season, but it would be foolish to sleep on Bullock. The 6-8 forward has missed each of the last two years — one due to suspension and one due to injury. Now it’s his time to produce and after taking in a Friars’ workout this week it appears that’s just what is going to happen.

Blessed with terrific timing and an uncanny nose for the ball, Bullock is a factor on the offensive glass and should flourish in the type of high octane style that Ed Cooley is implementing for this season at Providence. This should be the Friars’ third best player next to Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. Pencil him in for 10-12 points and five-to-seven rebounds.

MINNESOTA GOPHERSMinnesota is building towards a strong 2016-17

The upcoming season may be a “bridge year” for Richard Pitino and the Gophers as they transition from having a veteran laden team to one filled more with underclassmen. But thanks to some strong efforts on the recruiting trail and a few under-the-radar transfers, Minnesota looks like it’s going to be in position to have a very capable team in 2016-17 which will be Pitino’s fourth season in the Big Ten.

The Gophers’ program made national waves this week when it landed commitments from two Top-100 players in the Class of 2016 — Amir Coffey and Eric Curry — and those two players join an existing young nucleus of Nate Mason, Bakary Konate, and freshmen Kevin Dorsey, Jordan Murphy, and Dupree McBrayer. Minnesota also has two sit out transfers this season in Davonte Fitzgerald (Texas A & M) and Reggie Lynch (Illinois State) who are under-the-radar nationally, but could be productive in Pitino’s system. The 6-8 Fitzgerald is a lanky athlete who should be an immediate factor in a high-octane attack while Lynch (9.5 points, 5.4 rebounds per game) is an old-school below-the-rim post player who can score the ball in a half-court setting.

No one is going to expect Minnesota to be one of the favorites entering the Big Ten a year from now, but if Mason continues to develop into an All-Big Ten player and Dorsey, McBrayer, Murphy, and Konate all continue to progress, Pitino may have a team on his hands that’s going to be a nuisance to play by the time conference play rolls around in early 2017.

VCU RAMSWade is picking up where Shaka Smart left off

The 32-year old Wade sent shockwaves through the college basketball world last weekend when he received a verbal commitment from De’Riante Jenkins — a Top-60 player in the Class of 2016. The 6-5 wing will be an impact player for the Rams when steps on campus a year from now and his commitment reiterates the notion that VCU is still a destination for elite players under Wade just as it was under Smart. The national perception of the Rams’ program was forever changed after Smart led VCU to the 2011 Final Four, but just like Smart’s predecessors — Anthony Grant and Jeff Capel — Wade is fully aware of how good a job he has and possesses all the necessary attributes to keep things in Richmond moving on an upward trajectory.

This and That

2016 power forward Bam Adebayo (High Point Christian Academy) will take an official visit to Auburn this weekend, sources told CBS Sports. The 6-8, 235-pound Adebayo is a Top-10 player in the Class of 2016 and is also being courted by both NC State and Kentucky.

JUCO wing Bashir Ahmed (Hutchinson Community College) will visit St. John’s this weekend. He recently visited Cincinnati. Louisville is also in the mix. The 6-7 Ahmed is expected to be a junior-college All-American and will likely be a double-figure scorer for whichever team he plays for in the 2016-17 season.

Northwestern will open the Big Ten with four of its first six games at home and the two road games the Wildcats will play during that stretch are at Nebraska and Minnesota. Chris Collins has a real chance to get out of the gates strong in conference play, but that’s only if Northwestern can deal with something it’s never really had — expectations.

Last season San Diego State finished 254th nationally in 2-point shooting, 266th nationally in 3-point shooting, and 339th in free throw shooting. But the Aztecs still finished 27-9 and won a game in the NCAA Tournament. You think defense matters a little bit?

Several college coaches continue to wonder why Tulsa isn’t receiving more attention nationally. The Golden Hurricane return 97.6 percent of their scoring from last year’s team that won 23 games and advanced to the Postseason NIT. Frank Haith’s squad can make a major statement when it plays host to Wichita State on Nov. 17.


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