You won't find any Gophers on preseason all-conference teams or college basketball award watch lists this year.
Failing to recognize top returning players from an 8-23 Minnesota team might not be all that surprising -- until you take a closer look.
It almost seems like a conspiracy that sophomore Jordan Murphy was overlooked as an early candidate for the Karl Malone Award, which goes to the nation's top power forward. I understand that this award, along with the Jerry West Award (top shooting guard), Julius Erving Award (top small forward) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award (top center) only existed since 2015.
But Murphy's 11.6 points and 8.0 rebounds per game and nine double-doubles last season should've deserved enough to add him to the preseason watch list released Thursday. Not to mention the fact that he shared All-Big Ten freshman team honors with Purdue's Caleb Swanigan, Wisconsin's Ethan Happ and Indiana's Thomas Bryant. All three of them are considered among the top players at their position in the country.
Murphy averaged more points than eight players and more rebounds than nine players on the Karl Malone Award preseason watch list, which went so far as to include Kansas' Carlton Bragg Jr., who averaged 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds last season. Really? And there were four freshmen and one Division I transfer on the list. That's interesting since none of them have played for their respective teams yet. Why not let them earn their way onto the list?
Gophers junior guard Nate Mason doesn't have as strong of a case being left off the Bob Cousy Award preseason watch list released last week. Mason led the Gophers with 13.4 points and 4.5 assists per game, but he was suspended the last four games of the season. Minnesota’s lack of success was probably a major factor. Off-court issues can be a stumbling block for voters as well. Mason has some ground to cover, but he played like one of the top point guards in the nation during stretches last season.
Murphy and Mason were not on the 10-member All-Big Ten preseason team released before Big Ten media day in Washington D.C. last Thursday. They also don't appear on any all-conference first, second or third teams in college basketball previews from Athlon Sports, Lindy's Sports and Sporting News.
That along with the seemingly consensus pick for the Gophers to finish 12th in the Big Ten or lower gives Murphy, Mason and their teammates more than enough motivation this season.
“We talked about the word ‘respect’ a lot as a team this year,” Mason said at Big Ten media day. “But I also looked at it as an individual aspect. Coming into this year, (I’m) trying to gain my respect and just trying to have people respect me a little bit. I just go out there every day, play hard and hopefully get the respect I need. I’ve been looked over a lot, all my life. So it’s nothing new.”
If the Gophers show significant improvement this year, Mason will likely get noticed. So will Murphy. And others could grab attention as well: junior center Reggie Lynch and freshmen Amir Coffey and Eric Curry.