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If Keegan Murray were 3 inches shorter, the similarities between the Iowa basketball player and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis would be eerie beyond belief.
As it is, consider this:
The 6-foot-8 Hawkeye forward and the 6-5 Badger guard are sophomores playing at schools in their home states.
Entering Wednesday’s games, Murray led the nation in scoring at 24.5 points per game and Davis was third at 22.3.
Davis had 37 points in the No. 23 Badgers’ five-point win at No. 3 Purdue Monday night. Murray scored 35 in the Hawkeyes’ five-point win over Maryland the same evening.
Both came off the bench last year. Murray averaged 7.2 points, Davis 7.0. Neither topped 17 points in a game.
Both have made 35.6 percent of their 3-point shots this season. Davis averages 82.1 percent from the free-throw line, Murray 81.8 percent. Both lead their teams in rebounds. Davis leads the Badgers in steals, while Murray shares that distinction at Iowa with Joe Toussaint.
Both have identical twins who are teammates, in Kris Murray and Jordan Davis.
Davis’ team is 11-2, Murray’s 11-3. Late Thursday night, one of them will be on a 12-game winner when the Hawkeyes and Badgers meet at Wisconsin’s Kohl Center.
“Obviously, he’s a great player,” Murray said. “He took the time and just got better as a player this year, and I’m looking forward to that matchup tomorrow.”
If All-America voting were today, the two almost surely would be first-teamers. Heck, they would be strong National Player of the Year candidates.
“They were both really good players last year,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday. “Some guys graduated, so you kind of knew their roles were going to expand. But I don’t think anybody’s surprised. You could see both those guys coming.”
Have they ever. Murray has averaged 29.8 points in his last four games. He blocked three shots in each of his last two games, and is averaging 9.3 rebounds over the last three.
Davis was dominant in the Badgers’ upset win at Purdue. He not only scored half his team’s points, but had 14 rebounds. He led or shared his team’s lead in assists, steals and blocks, making him the first player to lead his team in all five categories in a road win over a top-five team since Tim Duncan of Wake Forest did it in 1997.
“He’s a fabulous player. He’s got a bright future,” Purdue Coach Matt Painter said after the game. “I’d like to be his agent.”
“He plays kind of at his pace and he can score in a variety of ways,” McCaffery said. “But he also is really adept at finding his teammates when necessary.
“Like with Keegan, he’s playing with supreme confidence right now.”
Wisconsin itself has perhaps been the Big Ten’s most positive surprise team to date, and that was before the Purdue win.
The Badgers lost four starters from last season, but have integrated the four new ones smoothly. Typically, the team plays at a slower tempo than Iowa does, and has fewer turnovers per game (8.2) than any team in the nation but New Hampshire.
However, Iowa is No. 3 nationally in that department at 8.7 despite its quicker pace, and will need to be extra careful with the ball at Wisconsin
“You can’t go on the road against a team of that caliber and cough it up,” McCaffery said.
“They’re going to make you pay if you’re making mistakes.”
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