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Gophers men's basketball program receives middling predictions

Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Richard Pitino coaches against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second half of a first round game of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 28, 2018. Brad Penner / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — The Gophers men's basketball team will finish ninth in the Big Ten Conference this season, according to a poll released Wednesday, Oct. 10, from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch and The Athletic.

The poll compiled views from 28 reporters, two covering each team, and picked Michigan State to repeat as champions, followed by Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, Purdue, Wisconsin, Maryland and Ohio State.

Minnesota's 168 votes were more than — in order — Iowa, Penn State, Northwestern, Illinois and Rutgers.

Here's what two national college basketball preview magazines had to say about the Gophers, coach Richard Pitino, star player Jordan Murphy and top recruit Daniel Oturu:

Athlon Sports picked the Gophers to finish 11th in the Big Ten. The magazine wrote: "Injuries and off-court issues ruined the Gophers last season, but a healthy Amir Coffey could team with Jordan Murphy to make Minnesota dangerous again."

Lindy's Sports also pegged Minnesota to finish ninth. Their assessment: "After overachieving two years ago and underachieving last year, NCAAs are a reasonable goal."

NCAA tournament

Athlon has five Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament field but not Minnesota. They pick Michigan State, Michigan, Nebraska, Indiana and Purdue to get in.

Lindy's put seven teams from the conference in the 68-team field but also excluded the Gophers. They added Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The Wolverines got hot at the end of last season and advanced to the Final Four, losing to Villanova in the championship game in San Antonio. This year's Final Four is at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Murphy love

On its list of top 100 players, Athlon puts senior forward Jordan Murphy at No. 66.

"Murphy got off to a hot start last season, but his play suffered as the Gophers went in the tank," Athlon wrote. "Still, he averaged 16.8 points and 11.3 rebounds for the season and is capable of even more as a senior."

Lindy's ranks Murphy at No. 54 on its top 150. "The bright spot in an otherwise mostly disappointing season for the Gophers," they wrote.

Murphy was left off Lindy's "all-glass cleaning team," despite averaging more rebounds than four of the five members in that lineup.

Athlon had Murphy, who led the nation with 24 double-doubles a year ago, slated to make third-team all-Big Ten. Lindy's put him on the second team.

Oturu praise

Daniel Oturu of Cretin-Derham Hall was pegged as the 56th-best incoming freshman, according to Lindy's.

"The freshman center embraces being a big man and has the ability to block shots and score in the post as well as step out and shoot," the magazine wrote. "How he recovers from shoulder surgery that kept him from practicing over the summer will determine if he can fill a major roll."

Hot seat?

Athlon put Pitino on the hot seat with 14 other coaches across the nation, including fellow Big Ten coaches in Iowa's Fran McCaffery and Nebraska's Tim Miles.

"Minnesota was a huge disappointment last season, slumping to 15-17 overall and 4-14 in the Big Ten after a breakthrough '16-17 campaign that featured the first (and only) trip to the NCAA Tournament in Pitino's five years," Athlon wrote. "He is 31-59 in conference games during his tenure."

Pitino, Murphy and senior guard Dupree McBrayer will be in Chicago on Thursday to share their views of the upcoming season at the conference's annual media day.

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