Men’s hoops taking No. 24 preseason rank in stride

Anthony Maggio

For the first time in the Dan Monson coaching era, Minnesota’s men’s basketball team can boast a top-25 ranking.

The Gophers, who have received votes in both major polls the last two seasons, are ranked 24th in the preseason USA Today/ESPN coaches poll.

“It’s nice to know that people have respect and feel that we’re worthy of being considered as one of the better teams right now to start to year,” Monson said.

Minnesota is the third-highest ranked of four Big Ten teams. Michigan State – picked by the conference coaches and media to win the Big Ten – is ranked 10th. Indiana is next at No. 21, followed by the Gophers and Illinois at No. 25.

Arizona is the preseason favorite, followed by Kansas and Oklahoma.

Now that Minnesota received preseason accolades, it must live up to expectations for the ranking to mean anything.

“It’s something that we’d like to have, but now we have to go out and prove what we can do,” said Rick Rickert, preseason pick for Big Ten Player of the Year. “We can’t go by those, we have to have substance – we have to prove it.”

A preseason ranking is something senior Kevin Burleson hasn’t experienced in his career with the Gophers. He is excited to finally have expectations from sources outside his own locker room.

“It’s great actually,” Burleson said. “It’s a challenge for us. The last couple years it was all about us believing in ourselves and now you see there’s some recognition out there. But we haven’t proven anything, so we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves.”

Monson also understands his team’s ranking is just a conjecture, and will mean nothing come March.

Last season, five of the top 15 teams and nine in the top 25 teams ranked in the preseason were not invited to the NCAA tournament, including Iowa, who was picked eighth.

“I would trade a top 25 preseason projection for a top 64 reality at the end of the season,” Monson said. “Every year there’s a lot of teams that start in there that have poor seasons. We just have to make sure we’re not one of those.”

Minnesota’s exhibition schedule opens Friday, Nov. 8 against Minnesota State, Mankato at 7 p.m., at Williams Arena. The regular season begins Nov. 24 versus the University of North Carolina – Asheville at Williams Arena.

Lawson out five weeks

minnesota guard Brent Lawson had surgery to repair a broken pinky finger on his shooting hand on Friday and will be out for five weeks.

Lawson, who is fighting for a spot in the Gophers rotation, suffered the injury on Oct. 23 in practice going for a loose ball. He had pins inserted to repair the broken finger.

Women’s basketball

minnesota junior point guard Lindsay Whalen was named as one of the top five guards in the country in an ESPN.com preview of collegiate women’s basketball.

Whalen, a Naismith Award candidate in 2002-03, averaged 22.2 points per game on her way to earning Big Ten conference player of the year honors.

Joining Whalen on the list are Duke junior Alana Beard, Penn State junior Kelly Mazzante, Texas Tech junior Jia Perkins and Connecticut junior Diana Taurasi.

ï Minnesota’s women’s basketball team is ranked No. 15 in Monday’s preseason release of the Associated Press poll. This marks the first time in program history that Minnesota entered a season with a national ranking.