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No love for Gophers in preseason men's basketball predictions

Flipping through college basketball magazines this fall, you'll notice there’s no preseason love for the Gophers men's basketball team going into the 2019-20 season. 

The Gophers went 22-14 and reached the NCAA tournament second round last season, but apparently preseason predictions can't look past Richard Pitino losing three starters, including Amir Coffey and Jordan Murphy.

The highest predicted finish right now for the Gophers is 10th by Street & Smith's magazine, which officially hit newsstands Tuesday. Lindy’s Sports and Athlon Sports, already available in stores, picked the Gophers to finish 11th and 12th, respectively. There were no Gophers on All-Big Ten preseason teams, either.

Louisville’s a popular Final Four pick. But the team that ended the Cardinals season in March is picked to reach the NIT at best. That might frustrate Gophers fans, who flocked to Des Moines in force to see just how much their team outplayed Louisville. The Cardinals do return a lot, though.

There are bright spots for the Gophers in preseason annuals.

A small picture of sophomore center Daniel Oturu is featured on the top right corner of the Street & Smith's college basketball regional cover. Former Pittsburgh guard Marcus Carr is also among the impact transfers to watch (although Athlon used junior forward Eric Curry's picture for Carr). Pitino isn't featured among the coaches on the hot seat.

It was much easier for magazines to pick the Gophers as a bottom-half Big Ten team, because of so much unknown. Seven newcomers are the most for the program since 2004-05. They also have no returning All-Big Ten players after Coffey decided to leave early for the NBA.

Oturu and sophomore Gabe Kalscheur, the U’s two returning starters, aren’t getting the same preseason hype as players who made the All-Big Ten freshmen team last season. Is that fair? Oturu and Kalscheur were snubbed IMO. They together led all Big Ten freshmen in several categories.

Bottom line, though, most college coaches don’t care about predictions. Pitino isn't any different. There are no trophies for preseason awards or accolades. It might even be better for Minnesota’s players to see the lack of respect and use it as bulletin board material to prove doubters wrong. We'll see if they can do that quickly during a tough stretch in November and early December.

Not many college hoops observers have gone out on a limb for the Gophers with preseason picks during Pitino’s tenure, but it has happened before. They were picked as high as second by Athlon after reaching the NCAA tournament in 2017, but injuries and suspension turned high expectations into disappointment.

Below is a breakdown of where the Gophers have been picked by preseason magazines between 2013-19 and where they finished in the Big Ten standings.

Season

Athlon

Lindy's

SN/S&S

Actual

13-14

9th

9th

9th

7th

14-15

9th

4th

9th

10th

15-16

12th

11th

13th

13th

16-17

12th

13th

12th

4th

17-18

2nd

3rd

4th

11th

18-19

11th

9th

4th

7th

19-20

12th

11th

10th

???

Bold – finished higher than at least two of predictions

Pitino hosting pair of four-star prospects at U this weekend

Richard Pitino’s recruiting is picking up with the Gophers expecting to host four-star prospects Gethro Muscadin and Jamari Sibley for official visits this weekend.

Monday was the start of one of the most important recruiting periods for college hoops coaches with off-campus, in-person visits allowed by the NCAA.

Pitino has three scholarships available but no commitments yet from the 2020 class. That has the Gophers staff focusing hard on targets outside of the state of Minnesota, as well. 

Muscadin (pictured), a 6-foot-10 center from Aspire Academy (Ky.), told the Star Tribune that a meeting at his school with Pitino on Monday "went great." Originally from Haiti, Muscadin also has official visits with Kansas and Texas Tech planned. He visited Kansas State last weekend, but he's looking forward to making his first trip to the Twin Cities.

“They have been recruiting me for a long time now,” Muscadin said about the Gophers, who have a connection through assistant Kyle Lindsted. “It’s a big-time program. Big-time coaches. Big-time conference, too.”

Sibley, a 6-8 forward from Oak Hill Academy (Va.), is ranked as a top-100 recruit and was the No. 1 player in the 2020 class in Wisconsin. He transferred to prep school after playing his junior year at Nicolet High school in Milwaukee.

Gophers assistant Rob Jeter’s ties to Wisconsin helped land the visit from Sibley, who also planned officials with Iowa (Sept. 27) and Georgetown (Oct. 5), according to 247Sports.com’s Evan Flood.

The Gophers hosted only one player on an official visit so far from the 2020 class two weeks ago. Sunrise Christian Academy (Kan.) four-star guard Ty Berry was impressed after his trip to Minnesota, which included watching the Aug. 29 football opener vs. South Dakota State.

Minnesota’s basketball recruits this weekend will be in attendance for the Gophers football game Saturday against Georgia Southern at TCF Bank Stadium. The following week, three-star Love Christian Academy (Pa.) wing D.J. Gordon is scheduled to make an official visit to the U.

Pitino saw Gordon, Muscadin and Brewster Academy (N.H.) four-star guard Jamal Mashburn Jr. on Monday. Mashburn’s official visit is scheduled for Oct. 6 to Minnesota.

-- There are no official visits set with in-state 2020 prospects and the Gophers yet. But you can bet Pitino will work hard to convince five-star Prior Lake big man Dawson Garcia to schedule an official when he meets with him for an in-home visit Wednesday. Garcia tweeted last week that he would be cutting his list down soon. Expect Marquette, Indiana and North Carolina to be finalists. All three head coaches came to Minnesota this week to see Garcia, including UNC coach Roy Williams on Tuesday.