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We’re six games into the season of the Iowa men’s basketball team, and here’s what we really know about the Hawkeyes:
We know they have come out and taken care of business six times in a row in overwhelming overmatched mid-major teams, and have scored a nation-leading 97.2 points per game in doing so.
We’ve learned sophomore forward Keegan Murray was ready to assume the team’s role of focal point, and then some. He averages a nation-leading 25.7 points in just 24.6 minutes per game.
But the Hawkeyes haven’t played anyone of note, and haven’t played outside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Monday, they play someone of note, and they do it far from home.
Iowa’s 2021 ACC/Big Ten Challenge game is Monday at Virginia (5-2), a college basketball brand name. The Cavaliers captured the NCAA championship in 2019, and have won five regular-season ACC championships in the last eight seasons under coach Tony Bennett.
The Hawkeyes are predicated on offense. Virginia is steeped in defense. It has allowed the fewest points per game (53.6) of any major-conference team, and that average is 47.5 in its current four-game winning streak.
Providence was 5-0 when it played the Hoos last Tuesday in New Jersey. The Friars shot 23.5 percent from the field and lost, 58-40.
Virginia’s Pack Line defense has a primary goal of stopping shots close to the basket, shots Murray has poured in with apparent ease this season. The Cavaliers try to prevent opponents from driving into the paint. When an opposing player gets the ball in the lane, all their off-ball players are free to float into the paint themselves.
Against this team, “You’ve got to do what works,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Sunday. “Which is ball movement, intelligent passing, move the ball side to side, in and out. You can’t make poor decisions, whether it be in transition or half-court.
“You’ve got to have good activity, whether it be cuts or screens, so that you end up with a good shot as opposed to a rushed shot at the end of the shot clock.”
The Hawkeyes likely must be good in 3-point shooting to win. When Navy and Houston scored wins over the Hoos, they were 11-of-21 and 11-of-20 from 3-point, respectively.
But in Virginia’s current win streak, which includes triumphs over Georgia and Providence, the opposition was a combined 12-of-93 for 12.9 percent.
McCaffery said he “saw what he wanted to see” in Iowa’s first six games, but “as we step up to a team of Virginia’s caliber on the road I think we’ll find out more.
“This is a (Virginia) team that’s deep, they’re talented, they’re physical, they play intelligently, they play together. We’ll see how we perform on the road against a team of that caliber.”
Entering Sunday, Iowa was sixth in the nation in turnover margin (+8.5 per game) and second in scoring margin (+31.7).
Those numbers almost certainly will be lowered after Monday’s game. The question is how much.
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