When Iowa basketball’s schedule came out ahead of the season, I had this one circled. Saturday game against a border rival where the bad blood goes back decades and seems renewed, even if the games haven’t tilted their direction of late.
The Iowa Hawkeyes (14-8, 6-5) will look to get the win against Illinois (16-6, 7-5) for the first time in three years and six tries. Fran McCaffery got the first five against Brad Underwood but as the Illini have achieved final form, Iowa hasn’t been able to get them back. With Garza v Ayo discourse, some ugly trash talk thrown Kris Murray’s way last year, and Iowa putting the kibosh on the Orange Krush’s annual procurement-under-false-pretenses of a block of tickets for a road game, it feels like this might reach a fever pitch later today.
But it can’t be a true rivalry if the Hawks continually come out the loser.
Can Iowa withstand the inevitable Illinois run?
In each of the past five games, Iowa has yielded runs of:
- 23-4, which turned it into a 16-point game in the second half
- 12-2 & 13-2. Iowa was able to go back & forth after the first one but could not do the same in the Big Ten Tournament
- 10-0, which extended a second-half lead to 15
- 19-3, which turned a double-digit Iowa lead into a slight Illinois one
Now, credit to Iowa in that they’ve been able to jump out on the Illini in each of the last two games but haven’t been able to maintain that intensity throughout the second half to bring these games home.
The Illini have played similarly to Iowa, hoping 8-10 minutes of GREAT basketball can carry them to victory and, of late, it has. The Hawkeyes will have to double-tap Illinois or else it’s going to be a close one and they’ve proven a impossible hill for the Hawks to climb in that respect.
Can Kris Murray be the best player on the floor?
Murray has been even more interesting to me than his twin, Keegan, was last year because there were times where Keegan absolutely took over games in every facet. Kris has a little slighter hand but no lesser impact than his brother. He’s been sensational from two - 64.8% in conference play for third - which I find more impressive since everyone knows he’s going to his left and still gets there.
But his shot has been just a smidge sideways - 33.3% in conference play from deep - and he’s found other ways to impact the game. His raw rebounding numbers 8.6 to lead the team and willingness to pass (1.8 assists) has allowed guys to flourish when his shot hasn’t fallen.
Iowa’s going to need his A game today, though, and with a tough matchup against Coleman Hawkins, he’ll need to be effective both ways. I also expect Fran McCaffery to do what he can to get him against Matthew Mayer, Illinois’ best shooter, and try to foul him off the floor (team high 4.3 fouls/40 minutes).
Murray has shown a little more edge than his brother, in my estimation and this is the type of game where he can really assert himself in more ways than one.
How to Watch
Date: Saturday, February 4th
Time: 1:37p CT
Opponent: Illinois Fighting Illini (16-6, 7-5); Big Ten Conference; Urbana & Champaign, IL
Location: Carver-Hawkeye Arena; Iowa City, IA
Gambling (by DraftKings): Illinois +2.5 | +120 at Iowa -140 | O/U 151.5
TV: FOX (Jeff Levering & Jess Settles)
Radio: Hawkeye Sports Network (Gary Dolphin & Bob Hansen)
Streaming: Fox Sports Live (Jason Benetti & Stephen Bardo)
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
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