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Can Keegan Murray continue to pace Iowa against a lesser foe?

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

We are back!

After an easy peasy lemon squeezy first week, the Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) return to the hardwood to face the NC Central Eagles (0-2). The Eagles gave Richmond a run for their money in the first half of the season but lost to the Spiders and Memphis last week. The Hawks beat them 97-67 in the first game of last season. Patrick McCaffery & Keegan Murray combined for 28 points in that one!

Looking back a bit...Iowa’s Friday opponent - UMKC - beat Missouri by double-digits last night. It’s a good reminder that weird stuff can happen in college basketball and tonight could be no different - just hopefully not at Carver-Hawkeye Arena!

The Eagles are led by LeVelle Moton. He’s been there since 2009 and has amassed a 212-157 record (.575) and NC Central’s 4 NCAA tournament appearances. 2020-21 was rough, with COVID-19 aggressively affecting their season, and they finished with a 5-9 record. The prior four? 70-54 & 45-19 in conference with three of those appearances.

KenPom has them at 343 but last season plays a part in that. They’ve finished anywhere between 161 & 316 in the 4 aforementioned seasons. Their leading scorer through two games is 6’0” guard Alex Caldwell at 11.5 PPG & 47% shooting. Marque Maultsby and Justin Wright are at 9/game.

Three questions

  • Can the Hawks keep up the defense? After allowing nearly one point/possession in their first outing, Iowa clamped down the defense against the Roos, particularly by shutting off second chance opportunities. Though UMKC saw their FG% tick up from Longwood, they had just 4 offensive rebounds and turned it over 17 times, including 11 Hawkeye steals. Iowa’s starters have been particularly impressive in asserting their will. Pivot Analysis has them outscoring opponents 84-32 in just 28 minutes over 46 possessions. They’re forcing turnovers on nearly a quarter of those possessions. Aesthetically, Joe Toussaint as the tip of Iowa’s spear is forcing opponents to get their possessions started a little later and a little further out. Keegan Murray, Filip Rebraca, & Pat McCaffery are versatile bigs in the pick and roll and defending the rim. Yes, the competition hasn’t ticked up yet but there’s something to be said for being the better team and playing like it.
  • Can Keegan Murray keep it up? Keegan’s first two games could not have gone much better at 24.5 PPG and 5.5 RPG. He’s doing other things with 9 combined blocks and steals. It was a bit of a surprise even if it was telegraphed based on offseason hype. Still, a star is being born in Iowa City. The Eagles have a couple bodies they can throw at Murray in 6’8” Kris Monroe and 6’7” Dontavius King but both have struggled with foul trouble in this young season.
  • Will Fran McCaffery stagger rotations a little more? So far, Fran has kept a bit of a hockey shift style to the lineups with the starters playing primarily with each other. However, it’s left the second unit a little lacking in their ability to score and has not necessarily allowed for backups to find a role amongst the starters for when the rotation may need to be shrunk a bit. I’d love to see Tony Perkins or Payton Sandfort try their hand alongside 4 starters to see if they can get their game rolling a little bit more.
  • BONUS: When does Jordan Bohannon make more history? The sharpshooting guard sits behind Jon Diebler as all-time 3-point maker at 373 to Diebler’s 374. He’s come out firing in Iowa’s two games and could wrap it up pretty quickly. Something to monitor.