The University of Minnesota men's basketball team is ranked 24th in the preseason ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll. The Golden Gophers are the third-highest ranked Big Ten team out of four. Michigan State is the highest-ranked Big Ten team at No. 10, followed by Indiana (No. 21), the Gophers and Illinois (No. 25). Arizona is the preseason No. 1, followed by Kansas and Oklahoma.
It is the first time the Gophers have been ranked since head coach Dan Monson took over the program. Minnesota has received votes in both major polls in each of the past two seasons. Since Monson took over the program, the Gophers have shown continued improvement. They finished 10th in the Big Ten in his first season and won 12 games. In 2000-01, Minnesota went 18-14 and finished ninth in the conference. Last season, the Maroon and Gold was 9-7 in the conference and finished sixth narrowly missing a NCAA tournament bid.
The Gophers return three starters and eight letterwinners from last year's team including 2002 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and preseason All-American Rick Rickert. Along with Rickert, seniors Kevin Burleson, and Jerry Holman, juniors Mike Bauer and S teve Esselink, and sophomores Maurice Hargrow and Aaron Robinson will be depended upon to keep the Gophers in the thick of the conference race.
Minnesota also will get its first contributions this season from junior Ben Johnson, a transfer from Northwestern. In addition, sophomore center Jeff Hagen will return after taking a redshirt year last season.
Minnesota opens its exhibition schedule a week from today, Fri., Nov. 8 vs. Minnesota State, Mankato at 7 p.m., at Williams Arena. The regular season starts on Sun., Nov. 24 vs. UNC Asheville at Williams Arena.