You know what? As awful as the conclusion to this season was, I say screw it, let’s remember how truly kick ass and unexpected this team was. In November, this was a, “Rack up a ton of cupcake wins, get 1 or 2 non-conference wins that beef the resume up, pray we get 9 or 10 Big Ten wins, then maybe have a chance to get in with a win in the Big Ten Tournament” kind of season. Yeah, the goalposts moved quickly and set us up for disappointment - and I’m still disappointed - but this season was super fun and I think I’m back-tracking on my 2006 stance, which I made known in the comments post-Richmond. This team will still get some of that, and I get it, but I’m going with the “I had a TON of fun with this team” angle instead. The lesson, as always - let this stuff breathe a bit before making a definitive statement like I did. Be disappointed, but let’s remember how fun this was.
So in the spirit of David Letterman, let’s do a Top 10 for the 2021-2022 basketball season! I’m talking crucial plays, individual moments of brilliance, and game moments or an experience, such as Jordan Bohannon’s 3-point eruption in Maryland.
Before we get to the main list, let’s hit a couple of honorable mention plays/performances this year.
Kris Murray to the Rescue - Iowa vs. Indiana, January 13, 2022
By this point in the season, Keegan Murray had turned into a damn Terminator, racking up double-doubles and generally crushing all foes. But in this game, Iowa’s emerging superstar was stuck in Fran McCaffery’s 2-foul jail. It felt like it would cost Iowa the game, as IU worked the Hawks over in the first half for 48 points and a 7-point halftime advantage.
BUT - Iowa’s got two Murray’s. Kris came off the bench, played starter minutes, and posted a sublime 29 point-11 rebound line, along with 2 assists, 3 steals, and 3 blocks. Pretty ho-hum there. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for next year. Check it out:
Kris Murray, young brother of Keegan Murray had his best game of career in a win vs. Indiana.— BPA - Brasil Prospects Analyst (@_BrasilDraft) January 16, 2022
29 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks, 3 steals in 12-18 FG and 2-5 3FG
Long athlete, with a nice upside on his jump shot and drives. Nice offense footwork. He's a good off ball defender. pic.twitter.com/H97EyV417R
Keegan Murray Buries Minnesota - Iowa at Minnesota, January 16, 2022
For most of this game, Iowa had Minnesota in a headlock. Iowa led by 16 at halftime and the lead ballooned to as much as 23 before Iowa took their foot off the gas and Minnesota came roaring back. A deep Jamison Battle 3 with 1:30 left brought Minnesota within a possession, 74-71. It sure felt like Iowa was about to blow this game. /glass shatters OH MY GOD THAT’S KEEGAN MURRAY’S MUSIC! Keegan with a huge 3 from the top rope!
Keegan Murray Dunk Part I - Iowa vs. Purdue, March 13, 2022
I just like this play. With Iowa up 6 and less than a minute remaining in the Big Ten Tournament Final, Iowa had to inbound the ball after a Purdue timeout following a Jayden Ivey lay-up. Iowa couldn’t get the ball in, so called a timeout of their own. They came out of the timeout and had this play drawn up. Mason Gillis gets dunked on here. It’s unpleasant for him. This should have been an and-1 play as Gillis clearly fouls Keegan, but I guess the refs didn’t want to embarrass anyone more than they already were.
Now for the main event. From the field offices in Iowa City, Iowa, here’s the 2021-22 Iowa Basketball Top 10!
10. The UVA Sequence - Iowa at Virginia, November 29, 2021
This was Iowa’s first true test of the year, a road game against a Power 6 opponent that kicked off a tough stretch of at Virginia, at Purdue, Illinois, at Iowa State, and Utah State. I figured Iowa needed to win 2 of these games to have any chance at achieving the “win cupcakes/non-con resume-builder/get 9-10 Big Ten wins/BTT win to get in” formula for NCAA qualification. Initially, they cleared this with flying colors, jumping the Cavaliers with a 15-0 run late in the first half on their way to a 21-point lead, 40-19.
That’s when UVA got the chisel out and started chipping away. A little here, a little there. Every time Iowa repaired things and pushed the lead back to 12, UVA would chip away again. Then Keegan Murray landed awkwardly on his ankle and things became even more dicey, to the point that Virginia led twice in the final 1:40, taking a 71-70 lead on a 3, then took the lead again on another 3, 74-73, to answer a Jordan Bohannon 3 that temporarily put Iowa back in front. Then Joe Toussaint and Patrick McCaffery saved the day.
Joe Toussaint (@jtoussaint_2) banked in the game winning 2 point jumper with 8.4 seconds left for Iowa to fend off Virginia and get the win in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for the Big Ten side 75-74 pic.twitter.com/Nqr5be76PO— NCAA Buzzer Beaters & Game Winners (@NCAABuzzerBters) November 30, 2021
Toussaint’s shot was pretty tough - he’s not set, has a mini-pump fake, and the bank is pretty high off the glass. This moment felt like it would be the lift-off Toussaint needed. He still had an ok year, and he was definitely an excellent teammate taking the role he did later in the year without public complaint of any sort, but this was undoubtedly his high point. And now he’s gone baby gone and I’m a little sad.
Virginia had a shot to win, but I’ll be honest - in real time I thought the shot was going to be too late. Filip Rebraca - let’s be honest, that’s an offensive foul on that missed look by Clark - is just enough of an impediment that it allowed Patrick McCaffery to swoop in and block the possible game winner to secure a solid win for Iowa.
I start the countdown here because this was the first time I thought Iowa might have something this year and that an NCAA berth would be a good bet. That didn’t always look inevitable over the course of the year - Iowa was 2-3 over this early test, and they started Big Ten play 4-6, because of course their first two games in those dumb December league games were at Purdue and Illinois - but this was the first time I felt it was possible and they had something. And I have to give Joe and Patrick some love - Joe for the winner and his high point of the year, Patrick for the block because I bet it was fun AF to volleyball spike that to win the game. I’ll have more on those two later in a different series I’m working on, a player debrief series, but they’ll have pretty limited exposure in the Top 10 so I had to give them some love while I could.
The win itself was nice but UVA ended up having a pretty poopy year - they swept Miami, and they of course won in Cameron Indoor on a late 3 in a split with Duke. This could have been a Quad 1 win, but the Cavaliers refused to cooperate and lost stupid games to teams such as James Madison (on the road, but still, UVA should not lose that sort of game). They didn’t make the tournament and lost in the NIT Quarterfinals to St. Bonaventure, 52-51. Which...come on, can we get out of the 50s in these games, please? Stuff sucks. If I wanted to see stuff like that, I’d watch more high school hoops.