Bringing back nearly everyone from last season's 24-win team, the Gophers are getting big respect from ESPN in a way-too-early preseason college basketball poll.
Myron Medcalf, who used to cover the Gophers for the Star Tribune, ranked Minnesota No. 15 in the ESPN poll.
"Last summer, Minnesota prepared for what seemed like a make-or-break year for Richard Pitino, who accepted the challenge and ended last year as the Big Ten coach of the year after leading the Gophers to the NCAA tournament. Nate Mason (15.2 PPG) earned all-Big Ten first-team honors. Jordan Murphy (11.3 PPG, 8.8 RPG) cracked the third team. Amir Coffey (12.2 PPG) made the league's all-freshman team. Reggie Lynch, who finished second nationally in block percentage on KenPom.com, won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors. They're all back for Pitino. In all, six of Pitino's top seven scorers from 2016-17 return. Plus, Isaiah Washington, top-100 point guard, will enhance Minnesota's versatile backcourt. Call Michigan State the favorite in the Big Ten -- that makes sense -- but don't overlook Minnesota's chance to compete with the Spartans and win the Big Ten crown."
Only one team from the Big Ten is ranked higher in Medcalf's poll – Michigan State at No. 3.
Northwestern, at No. 20, is the only other Big Ten team in his top 25.
The 2016-17 Gophers (24-10) finished third in the Big Ten and earned a 5-seed in the NCAA Tournament. They lost to 12-seed Middle Tennessee in the opening round.