The college basketball season concluded Monday night with the annual montage “One shining moment” featuring the Gophers experiencing heartache.
The clip captured Amir Coffey embracing a teammate after the first-round loss to Middle Tennessee State and closed out a sequence with Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams telling his players “This is a growth opportunity and you have to use it as such.”
The “Way-Too-Early” Top 25 ranking released by ESPN, Sports Illustrated and others Tuesday believe the Gophers will have made the most of their growing opportunity and establish themselves as one of the top programs in the country.
Of course, some Gophers fans recall that ESPN’s Way-Too-Early football mock draft projected quarterback Mitch Leidner as a first-round pick. The latest mock drafts expect Leidner to be a late-round pick in the April 27-29 NFL draft.
ESPN ranked the Gophers No. 17 in its 2017-2018 rankings. Here is why:
Minnesota, the No. 5 seed that lost twice to Wisconsin, caught the brunt of the angst over Wisconsin's underseeding (and subsequent second-round knockout of No. 1 Villanova), and it didn't help when the Golden Gophers fell to Middle Tennessee in the first round. Oh well. Coach Richard Pitino's team might not have been as good as the Badgers, but it did play top-25 defense, and it will return everyone of note moving forward, from point guard Nate Mason to shot-block specialist Reggie Lynch. Pitino also added four-star point guard Isaiah Washington to help Mason on the perimeter; he could fight his way into significant minutes right away. More pressing: This is a team that won eight games in 2015-16. Tourney seed aside, this turnaround was already spectacular. It will probably continue apace.
Sports Illustrated basketball writer Seth Davis has Minnesota at No. 10, one spot above Kansas, highlighting the fact that only one starter is gone from the team that finished fourth in the Big Ten.
Sporting News has the Gophers ranked No. 13, just one spot behind 2017 national runner-up Gonzaga. Here is why:
Minnesota snuck up on pretty much everybody in 2016-17, but that won’t happen again next year. Know how many seniors were on the team that won 24 games this season? Just one, and Akeem Springs was fifth on the team in scoring. The rest of those rising stars are expected back, and the Gophers will push for the Big Ten championship. Sounds strange, right? It’s true. Very true.
Jeff Borzello wrote an ESPN Insider proclaiming the Gophers should be a Big Ten favorite with most of its roster coming back.
Remember, though, official practice starts seven months from now and a lot can change in that time. ESPN’s 2016-2017 Way-Too-Early Top 25 ranked Duke No. 1, the favorite to win a national championship, and praised its roster as one “for the ages.” However, none of these predictions turned out to be true, ESPN writer Eamonn Brennan admitted.
What these early rankings do tell us, however, is the Gophers are now a part of the national discussion.
Watch one-shining moment (Gophers appear at 1:05, Lakeville North product J.P. Macura at 1:40):