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The Big Preview: Iowa at Virginia in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

NCAA Basketball: Legends Classic Championship-Virginia at Providence Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Riding a four game winning streak, Virginia Basketball returns to action facing the Iowa Hawkeyes in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Virginia did not participate in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge a year ago due to a CoVID-19 outbreak within the Virginia program. Prior to that, Virginia was 8-3 in the Challenge under Tony Bennett.

The Hawkeyes are 6-0 this season, but have yet to play anybody even remotely good. Their best win is over Longwood, KenPom’s 204th ranked team. On the plus side, none of those games were even remotely close. Iowa is winning by an average of 31 points per game.

Things are about to get pretty difficult for them, though. Following this game, the Hawkeyes have Purdue (KenPom: #2) and Illinois (23) over the next week. Maybe the Hawkeyes will be looking ahead to those important Big Ten games rather than being focused on Virginia.

The last time these two teams faced off was five years ago in the Emerald Coast Classic, with Virginia coming away with a 74-41 win. Iowa senior Jordan Bohanan played 23 minutes in that game, scoring six points on 2-8 shooting from the field (2-6 from downtown).

That’s a shooter’s touch right there. Bohahan is one of the best shooters in the nation, a career 40% shooter from downtown. He’s in his sixth season (missed most of the 2019-20 season after hip surgery) and has made 379 career treys. Obviously, he has range well beyond the arc, so Virginia will have to focus on picking him up well outside.

Iowa is led by the nation’s current leading scorer in sophomore Keegan Murray, averaging nearly 26 points per game. Keegan’s twin brother Kris does not start, but still ranks second on the team in scoring, but well behind his brother at just 13 ppg.

At 6’8” 225, the Murray twins are basically “stretch-4s”. Keegan was All-Big Freshman last season, though Kris played sparingly. Keegan is knocking down 36% from downtown so far this year, after making under 30% a year ago. His real strength though is inside, especially on the glass. He’s one of the top rebounders in the nation. Kris is also tough inside, but is also 9-14 (64%) so far. You have to figure that number will drop as the competition improves, but it’s impressive for now.

As you can see from this clip, the Hawkeyes are going to run a lot of press. You would expect Virginia to handle that press pretty well, since they play with two PGs on the floor at almost all times. But Virginia has struggled with turnovers a bit this season. Against Houston, Virginia turned the ball over 17 times (28% of possessions). Even in the big win over Providence, it was 15 turnovers (27%). On the season, Virginia has turned it over on just under 19% of possessions. For perspective, during the championship season, that was under 15%. It makes a big difference, especially for a team with limited possessions in a game.

The Murrays are not the only brothers on the roster. Connor and Patrick McCaffery are two of head coach Fran McCaffery’s sons and both have big roles on the wings. Connor, at 6’5” 205, is a starter on the wing and provides playmaking and defense on the perimeter. He doesn’t shoot much, just eight FGA in six games despite averaging almost 20 minutes per game. But he’s a smart player and has 18 assists against just 2 turnovers. At 6’9” 200, Patrick is a matchup problem against most teams.

You think these guys didn’t grow up playing together? With a coach as a father, they’re both high-IQ players who know what to do with the ball. Patrick is a more aggressive scorer and averages 12.5 ppg. He knocked down 30% from downtown a year ago, but is just 2-11 (18%) so far this season. He’s good inside and plays well in transition, but if he’s not making the outside shot, he’s not as dangerous.

On the season, the Hawkeyes are making over 38% of their triples, and over 83% of their FTs. That second number says that they may not be over their heads shooting the basketball.

The Murray brothers will play together some, but generally North Dakota transfer Filip Rebraca plays up front next to whichever Murray brother is at the four. The big man can also shoot it (36% last year on about two attempts per game), but does not figure to get that many opportunities this year. He’s mostly in there to block shots and grab rebounds. He’s eighth on the team with just 22 FGA in six games, but he’s second on the team in rebounds and blocked shots. He’s also fourth on the team in minutes, though that will even out as they play closer games. Nobody on the team averages even 25 mpg because of all the blowouts.

One thing Iowa does not do is turn the ball over. They were number-one in the nation in lowest TO rate last year, and they are number-five right now. Generally, that doesn’t matter to Tony Bennett teams, but the Wahoos have been forcing a lot more turnovers than they normally do. That’s largely due to Virginia wings Reece Beekman and Armaan Franklin, both with very active hands. Deflections and steals lead to easy buckets, which is something Virginia sorely needs as the offense is still in progress.

Iowa is going to try to speed up this game, whereas Virginia is going to slow it down. Both teams will probably get some transition opportunities, but this game will mostly be played in the half-court. The starting fives are pretty even, though Iowa has more depth. Tony Bennett may only go seven deep in this game, whereas McCaffery may go nine or even ten deep. Iowa also has more shooters, and that may be the difference in this game. Virginia gets a home court advantage, which is possibly the only advantage they have in this game. Is it enough?

Virginia is favored by 2, per DraftKings. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. on ESPN 2.