College basketball preseason picks can be brutal when your team is full of unknowns.
That couldn't be truer than for Ben Johnson's Gophers, who have 10 newcomers in his first season with the program.
Not surprisingly, early 2021-22 projections are for the Gophers to finish 14th in the Big Ten, according to Athlon Sports and Lindy's Sports college hoops annuals that hit newsstands recently.
If experts were looking for returning Gophers from last season, Johnson doesn't have many of them.
In fact, the only player healthy enough to play that took the court for former Gophers coach Richard Pitino last year is redshirt senior post Eric Curry, who is taking advantage of an extra year of eligibility. Junior Isaiah Ihnen suffered a season-ending knee injury in the summer.
The other familiar face is Charleston grad transfer Payton Willis, who played for the Gophers in 2019-20 before leaving and coming back. If the U is looking for a cover boy, the 6-4 senior guard is it right now, literally. Willis represented the Gophers on the regional cover of Lindy's Sports College Basketball magazine.
Johnson talked this summer about the leadership he's expecting from Willis, the likely starting point guard this season. Willis averaged 8.9 points and was second on Minnesota's team with 53 assists in 25 starts two seasons ago.
"He's going to be a big piece," Johnson told the Star Tribune in late August. "He can help, along with Eric, talk to these guys about just what this league is about because with the two early [December] league games we jump right into it. They can tell them when I talk about what it takes to win in this league and at this level. They've seen it and done it. His value is huge with his experience and playing that lead guard position and role. He's done it and had success."
Interested in learning more about the 2021-22 roster? Here's the summer roster breakdown from an earlier piece.
Above is a chart of where the Gophers have been picked by preseason magazines in men's hoops from 2013-20 and where they finished in the Big Ten standings (only Lindy's published college magazines in 2020 during the pandemic).