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Gophers' Washington listed as one of Big Ten's top freshman

Richard Pitino returns nearly everyone from a 24-win NCAA tournament team, including several players who received All-Big Ten honors.

But freshman Isaiah Washington is arguably the most talked about player for the fifth-year Gophers men’s basketball coach – and he hasn’t even made his debut yet.

The 6-foot-1, 160-pound throwback New York City point guard has as much hype surrounding him as any newcomer in the Big Ten. And several preseason lists have already tabbed Washington as one of the top incoming freshmen in the conference. 

“He had a really, really good summer,” Pitino said. “That’s one step. That’s a small step, so we’ll see where it goes from here.”

Most recently, Scout.com rated Washington No. 2 among Big Ten freshmen expected to make an impact. The only player ahead of him was Michigan State’s 6-foot-11 big man Jaren Jackson Jr., who was a top-10 player in the Class of 2017.

In Street & Smith’s college basketball preview magazine, Washington was on the five-member all-newcomer team that included Jackson, Michigan’s Jaaron Simmons (Ohio transfer), Maryland’s Darryl Morsell and Illinois’ Mark Alstork (Wright State transfer).

In Lindy’s Sports magazine, veteran recruiting analyst Frank Burlison seemed enamored with Washington, who he ranked as the 19th best incoming freshman in the country and second best in the Big Ten. Burlison called Washington the best playmaker/passer of all the incoming Big Ten recruits, and “the best point guard not to be selected in the McDonald’s All-American game.”

Burlison’s prediction that Washington “might lead the Big Ten in assists before long” doesn't seem that far-fetched. Although that might not happen this season playing with All-Big Ten point guard Nate Mason, who averaged five assists last season. But it could come to fruition as early as Washington's sophomore year.

Lindy’s 2017 recruiting class rankings listed Minnesota as 17th nationally, because of Washington and New Jersey guard Jamir Harris, one of the top shooters in the class. Burlison said Washington and Harris would’ve been the type of East coast backcourt in the 1980s and 1990s that could help a Big East team compete for a conference title and make an NCAA tournament run. That’s the heaviest praise I’ve seen for the future Gophers backcourt.

Social media can never have enough of Washington's "Jelly Fam" brand and different versions of their trademark layups. So ESPN’s Sportscenter Twitter feed picked up a video of the New York Mr. Basketball standout dribbling, spinning and twisting for a jelly finger roll last week during a workout at the Bierman practice court on the U campus. And, of course, it went viral with more than 17,000 favorites.

“He loves to play,” Pitino said. “Sometimes when you see all that media stuff, you think maybe he’s not and about some other things. But he’s really not. He lives in the gym. He just loves ball and loves to compete.”

-- Sophomore power forward Eric Curry, who suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier this month, was having surgery to repair a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus Wednesday morning. 

   

Preseason: Gophers, two others biggest threats to Michigan State

There's really only one consensus pick when it comes to the Big Ten in college hoops preview magazines this year -- and that's Michigan State to win the conference title.

We all get it. Sparty has the Big Ten’s best coach in Tom Izzo, the best player in Miles Bridges, the best incoming freshman and NBA prospect in Jaren Jackson Jr. – and best chance to reach the Final Four and win the national championship. 

After that, Minnesota, Northwestern and Purdue are all picked to finish runner-up to the Spartans by different college basketball annuals, including Street & Smith hitting newstands this week. 

Athlon Sports picked Gophers No. 2 (Also, No. 3 by Lindy's and No. 4 Street & Smith).

Here’s why: It's hard to argue with the Gophers having the most talented roster in the Big Ten behind Michigan State on paper. They welcome back All-Big Ten first-team guard Nate Mason, All-Big Ten freshman guard Amir Coffey, All-Big Ten third-team forward Jordan Murphy and Big Ten defensive player of the year Reggie Lynch. The season-ending knee injury to key reserve post Eric Curry was a big blow, but Richard Pitino’s top six (including newcomer Isaiah Washington and probable starter Dupree McBrayer) is solid.

Also, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team in 2017-18 with players back who earned all-conference first team, all-freshman team and all-defensive team. The last team to do that was Wisconsin in 2016-17.

The Badgers then had Nigel Hayes returning as a first-team pick and Ethan Happ coming off all-freshman and all-defensive team selections. But in the Gophers’ case, we’re talking about three different players earning those honors: Mason, Coffey and Lynch. No team has returned that type of trio since Wisconsin welcomed back Frank Kaminsky (Big Ten first-team), Hayes (all-freshman) and Josh Gasser (all-defensive) in 2014-15.

Those Badgers won the 2015 Big Ten title that season with a 16-2 record – and we all know what happened after that. They ruined Kentucky’s 37-0 season in the Final Four and lost to Duke and Tyus Jones in the NCAA title game. Obviously, I’m not saying that should make Minnesota poised to follow the same path. Kaminsky was not only Big Ten player of the year, but he was the national POY as well. But it’s an interesting comparison.

Lindy’s Sports picked Northwestern No. 2 (Also, No. 3 by Street & Smith and No. 4 by Athlon).

Here’s why: Bryant McIntosh. Bryant McIntosh. Bryant McIntosh. Now that the college basketball world is done swooning over the Wildcats finally making the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, they are now on the McIntosh bandwagon. I can see why. He’s one of the most efficient point guards in the country. He’s a senior with a ton of big-game experience. And he’s a big reason Northwestern coach Chris Collins made history last season. So why not believe McIntosh can help lead the Wildcats a step further and compete for a conference title? He’s also got help, though. Vic Law and All-Big Ten third-team selection Scottie Lindsay are two of the top scoring wings in the conference. But it will take a lot more than perimeter power to fulfill that preseason billing of a second-place team.

Street & Smith picked Purdue No. 2 (Also, No. 3 by Athlon and No. 4 by Lindy's)

Here’s why: No team lost more with one player than Purdue with Caleb Swanigan. But the Boilermakers looked really, really good at times during their silver medal run in the World University Games representing for Team USA. Outside of Minnesota, Purdue appears to have the most balance inside and outside, mainly with guards Carsen Edwards and Dakota Mathias, forward Vince Edwards and center Isaac Haas. Like McIntosh, Edwards is a Big Ten player of the year candidate. But the biggest question mark for Matt Painter’s team is how much depth is behind Haas in the frontcourt?

Athlon preseason Big Ten predictions

  1. Michigan State
  2. Minnesota
  3. Purdue
  4. Northwestern
  5. Michigan
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Maryland
  8. Iowa
  9. Indiana
  10. Penn State
  11. Illinois
  12. Ohio State
  13. Nebraska
  14. Rutgers

Lindy’s Sports

  1. Michigan State
  2. Northwestern
  3. Minnesota
  4. Purdue
  5. Michigan
  6. Maryland
  7. Wisconsin
  8. Iowa
  9. Ohio State
  10. Penn State
  11. Illinois
  12. Indiana
  13. Rutgers
  14. Nebraska

Street & Smith

  1. Michigan State
  2. Purdue
  3. Northwestern
  4. Minnesota
  5. Iowa
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Maryland
  8. Michigan
  9. Penn State
  10. Indiana
  11. Illinois
  12. Nebraska
  13. Ohio State
  14. Rutgers