Gophers MBB Will Tip-Off Season Wednesday as Biggest Sleepers in NCAA

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The Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball team lost Daniel Oturu to the 1st round of the NBA Draft last week and that, paired with an inconsistent 2019-20 campaign, has the nation sleeping on them in 2020-21.

The Gophers haven’t sniffed either of the top-25 college basketball preseason polls (AP, Coaches) and all major outlets who have released top-25 preseason power rankings have left them off as well (CBS Sports, Athlon Sports, 247 Sports). None of this is surprising or worth getting upset about. Pitino and Co. have a lot to prove after last season was cut short with them below .500 (15-16).

But I’m not done. Jeff Goodman ( releases a top-50 preseason power rankings and the Minnesota Gophers couldn’t even make that. This offseason, Goodman listed Liam Robbins as the top waiver-required transfer on the market so Minnesota getting snubbed from his top-50 surprised me. More on Robbins shortly.

It gets worse. (Fansided) did a full 357-team college basketball power rankings and pushed the Gophers all the way down to #82. Pretty much any ranking system that was done by a human has the Gophers out of sight and out of mind.

Talented and full of depth

I guess we’re just going to ignore the wing transfer, Both Gach, who started for the (PAC-12) Utah Utes all but 2 games of his sophomore season and half as a Freshman. He only adds length and fortitude on defense that the Gophers hopelessly lacked at times last year. He averaged 10+ points in 2019-20 and can attack all levels on offense too.

We mentioned the loss of Daniel Oturu to the NBA, and there is no questioning his importance to last season’s Gopher squad. But to replace him, Pitino recruited another top transfer in Liam Robbins, who also had his waiver approved to play immediately.

It would’ve been impossible for Pitino to find anyone who could have filled Oturu’s shoes better in 2020-21, than Robbins. Nobody on the current roster was ready and only a top-25 type freshman could have fit the mold on paper. Robbins, on the other hand, is already a 7-foot defensive juggernaut who has a polished offensive touch to his game.

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And as a whole, this is the deepest and most talented team that Richard Pitino has ever had at Minnesota. They have legitimate guard depth, with highly thought of Freshman Jamal Mashburn Jr. joining the bench. He’ll be able to spell preseason All Big Ten point guard, Marcus Carr. That’s not something they had last year either. Let’s not forget about Western Michigan grad-transfer, Brandon Johnson, who will start at the 4 next to Robbins, providing more defensive toughness and a lot of rebounds.

The Daniel Oturu + Marcus Carr combo was Minnesota Gophers basketball last season. Oturu was great and went in the first round because of it. Carr was inconsistently great but the two couldn’t overcome last year’s lack of depth in the front and backcourt.

2020-21’s team is much better and deeper in every area (outside of starting Center). I went way deeper into their new roster last week but this team is good enough to go 10-deep if Eric Curry is healthy enough to be effective.

Computer Projections

Humans who make preseason top-25 lists or try to predict conference rankings hate the 2020-21 Minnesota Gophers but the computer simulated rankings are a bit nicer.

Minnesota ranks top-40 in the most trusted AI rankings, including #14 in the “Massey”, #30 in the “KenPom” and #36 in the composite computer-generated rankings (by Massey). does a great computer simulated preseason ranking system too and the Gophers start at #36 there.

TeamRankings gives Pitino and his new squad a 35.7% chance of making the NCAA Tournament and projects them to finish bottom-four in the Big Ten.

Wednesday vs Green Bay – Wisconsin

But all of the preseason rankings go out the window on Wednesday. That’s right… tomorrow night at 6:00 PM the Minnesota Gophers are scheduled to tip-off their 2020-21 season vs the Green Bay (Wisconsin) Phoenix. Yes… that is their real nickname. Big Harry Potter fans, apparently.

COVID-willing, we’ll get our first taste of this new team tomorrow night and I am foaming at the mouth to watch them play. They have so much talent, depth and experience that I really do believe this, out of all others across the country, is the sleeper team to watch (or go bet all of your money on) in 2020-21.

So pray to the corona gods for no positive tests between the two teams from now until tip-off Wednesday evening. If you want to watch, hopefully you get BTN Plus.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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