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IOWA CITY — It would be best for the Iowa men’s basketball team if No. 6 Purdue’s Jaden Ivey were sitting out Thursday night’s game between the two teams at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Ivey didn’t play Sunday in Purdue’s 80-60 home win over Northwestern because of a hip flexor injury. Wednesday, he said he expects to play at Iowa.
The Hawkeyes’ Keegan Murray, typically listed with Ivey as potential 2022 NBA first-round draft picks, feels otherwise.
“I want to go against Purdue at full strength,” Murray said Tuesday. “They’re one of the best teams in the country. Just getting their best shot at home is something that I really look forward to.
“(Ivey) is a great player. He’s had a really good season, and you want him healthy, first and foremost.”
Ivey is a 6-foot-4 sophomore guard averaging a team-high 16.7 points for the No. 6 Boilermakers (16-3 overall, 5-3 Big Ten). He’s a lottery pick through and through with his skills and explosiveness. This presumably will be the only chance for Iowa fans to see him play at Carver.
Murray, who leads the Big Ten in scoring at 22.8 points per game, has played every game but one this season. The one was Iowa’s 77-70 loss at Purdue on Dec. 3 when he was sidelined with an ankle issue.
Ivey turned a steal into a dunk with 9:54 left in that game, giving the Boilermakers a 63-44 lead. Iowa responded with several minutes of great defense to pull within 72-70 before Purdue pulled away.
“Iowa played harder than us,” Purdue Coach Matt Painter said. “Iowa was tougher than us.”
With or without Ivey, the Boilermakers are deep, skilled, and big. Purdue gets a combined 28 points and 16 rebounds per game from 7-foot-4, 295-pound Zach Edey and 6-10, 255-pound Trevion Williams.
On top of that, Williams may be the best-passing big man in college basketball.
Senior guard Sasha Stefanovic has scored 22 points in two of his last three games. He is one of five Boilermakers who has made at least 20 3-pointers, and one of four of them who is shooting over 40 percent from that distance.
“They're a tough match-up everywhere,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “It starts with that, of course, but then Ivey is next level, and they have multiple 3-point shooters. They have veterans coming off the bench.
“They're not a mistake team. They run really good stuff. They defend. It really takes your best to beat them.”
Every Big Ten game matters, but this one feels like a possible pivot point for the Hawkeyes. At 4-4 in the conference and 14-5 overall, they seem on a path to the NCAA tournament. Their No. 20 spot in the NCAA’s NET rankings certainly supports that.
However, Iowa is one of just two teams in the top 45 of the NET that lacks a victory over a Quad 1 team. A Quad 1 win would be beating a Top 30 team in the NET at home or a Top 75 NET team on the road.
If Iowa beats Purdue (No. 8 in the NET), it not only would add a significant piece to its resume but would put some wind under its wings as it heads eastward for games next Monday at Penn State and next Thursday at Ohio State.
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