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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


Gophers hoops target Haliburton picks Iowa State

Oshkosh North (Wis.) guard Tyrese Haliburton saved his best for last when it came to the AAU season.

Haliburton had mostly scholarship offers from mid-major schools in June.

But by the end of the summer, the 6-foot-6 senior had a top five of Iowa State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Northern Iowa. Haliburton announced his college decision on twitter Monday to play for Iowa State.

Haliburton unofficially visited Iowa State in late August and made an official trip to Nebraska in early September. He was hoping to visit the Gophers this month, but the Wisconsin standout tweeted Sunday he was ready to pick a school.

Minnesota coach Richard Pitino has one more spot to fill in his 2018 recruiting class to join center Daniel Oturu, forward Jarvis Thomas and shooter Gabe Kalscheur.

The Gophers offered Haliburton a scholarship on Sept. 11. But Pitino had already targeted four-star Tindley (Ind.) guard Eric Hunter Jr. and South Kent School (N.Y.) guard Anthony Nelson who both also received in-home visits last week.

Hunter, a top-100 prospect, has always been the top backcourt target remaining for Pitino. The 6-foot-3, 170-pound Indianapolis native visited Purdue and Ohio State the last two weekends. He’s still scheduled for his last official trip to the Gophers on Sept. 27-29.  

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