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IOWA CITY — There was one Big Ten men’s basketball game played Tuesday. Wisconsin beat Penn State, 63-60.
There was one Big Ten men’s basketball game played Wednesday. Nebraska beat Ohio State, 63-60.
Iowa is the conference’s palate cleanser. With their 82 points per game, the Hawkeyes are on pace to lead the Big Ten in scoring for the fifth straight season.
Barring a dip over the rest of the way, Kris Murray will be the third different Iowa player to average more than 20 points in the last three seasons.
Luka Garza averaged 23.9 and 24.1 points in 2019-20 and 2020-21, Keegan Murray scored 23.5 a game last season, and Kris Murray is at 21.2 this season (23.7 in Big Ten play).
In the last 10 years, only five other Big Ten players averaged 20 points. None scored as much as Garza or Keegan Murray in their All-America seasons.
Now it’s Kris Murray. He is averaging 25 points in the last five games. He had 17 second-half points in Iowa’s 81-67 win over Maryland Sunday.
Only four Iowa players between 1972 and Garza in 2020 averaged 20 points in a season. The scoring of Garza and the Murrays these last four years is beyond uncommon.
“All three of them are versatile in their own way,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Thursday. “You look at Luka and you say he's a low-post guy, but not really. He shot 44 percent from 3, he made every elbow jumper, every baseline jumper. He can make a 12-foot jump hook look like a 2-foot jump hook.
“Keegan was a coast-to-coast guy, really difficult matchup, phenomenal coming off screens.
“I think you're seeing Kris the same way. Makes 3s, drives the ball, offensive rebound put-backs, scores from different locations on the floor, so you can't really scheme your defense because they're never in one place.”
All three took unusually big leaps in their breakout seasons. Garza, who scored 16 points in 17 minutes for the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday, went from 13.1 points per game as a sophomore to 23.9 as a junior.
Keegan Murray is scoring 11.7 points per game as a rookie for the first-place Sacramento Kings. He averaged 7.2 as an Iowa freshman, 23.5 last season as a sophomore.
Kris Murray scored 9.7 points per game off the bench a season ago. Now he’s 13th nationally at 21.2 ppg. Purdue’s Zach Edey is the only Power Five conference player scoring more.
“I’m just playing with a lot more confidence than last year,” Murray said. “Just going through the (NBA) pre-draft, going to Damian Lillard’s camp in August, I think it gave me a lot of confidence in myself, in just how good of a player I can be.”
Last season, Kris Murray often played as well as his first shot or two. If they went in the basket, away he went. If they didn’t, he would fade into the background. That was hardly unusual for someone getting significant college minutes for the first time.
Murray said the mental side of the game is where he has made the largest strides this season.
“I just knew that I had the skill set,” he said. “I worked to just shrug off shots that I don’t make and not put my head down, and know the next one’s going in. That’s just kind of how I’ve been playing this year.”
Iowa’s offense is fast, but not overcaffeinated. The team is 10th nationally in fewest turnovers per game, third in assist-to-turnover ratio.
“We want to get it and go and attack, and then we want to move it and share it, and that seems real simple,” McCaffery said.
“It’s one thing for the coach to say ‘I want you to share the ball,’ but everybody has to decide they want to share the ball. You have to recognize, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we've got Luka Garza, we need to throw it to him. We need to throw it to (Joe) Wieskamp.’
“Keegan Murray, he didn't set out to lead the league in scoring or lead the nation in scoring. He was leading the nation at one point. He just was trying to score and rebound and help us win. Then ultimately sometimes it ends up that way where you get all the recognition like he and Luka did, and I'm happy for Kris.”
Iowa has averaged 85.3 points in its current four-game winning streak. That sure beats the Big Ten’s nightly 63-60 slogs.
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