Thursday’s Iowa-Wisconsin game features two teams that had very similar off-seasons. Both lost their two top scorers from a year ago and came into this season with far lower expectations. Iowa was picked to finish 9th in the Big Ten this season, Wisconsin 10th.
Yet the combined record for the two teams going into Thursday is 22-5, and both are projected to make the Big Dance in March.
“I expected them to be good,” head coach Fran McCaffery said.
They’ve done it in two very different ways. The Hawkeyes play at one of the fastest paces in the country, scoring the second most points at 87.4 points per game. Wisconsin on the other hand, slows it down and really leans on its defense.
Trying to impose these two contrasting styles will be important for each team, but the Hawkeyes see it as more of a balancing act than a battle.
“We want to play fast, we don’t want to play nuts,” Connor McCaffery said. “We want to go, we want to push the pace, but at the same time, there’s going to be possessions where we need to slow it down, get a good shot, work the clock.”
There two ways they are similar, however. The first, neither team turns the ball over very much, with Wisconsin averaging the second fewest per game in the country, and Iowa with the fourth fewest.
“You can’t go on the road and play a team of that caliber and cough it up,” coach McCaffery said. “With some of the veteran guys and some of the talent they have, they’re going to make you pay if you’re making mistakes.”
The other major similarity between these two border rivals are the players leading the way: star sophomores. Keegan Murray and Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis play different positions, but that’s about where the difference ends.
It’s been a meteoric rise for the two Midwest-born players. Neither averaged over eight points last season, or was even a starter. Fast forward to this season, both are playing at an All-American level.
“They were both really good players last year,” coach McCaffery said. “Some guys graduated, so you kind of knew their roles were going to expand. But I don’t think anyone is surprised. You could see both of those guys coming.”
Murray and Davis rank first and third in the country in scoring, respectively. Murray is coming off a 35-point performance in Iowa’s 80-75 win over Maryland on Monday. Davis exploded for 37 to help No. 23 Wisconsin beat No. 3 Purdue on the same day.
They’re also their teams leading rebounders and have shown themselves to be well-rounded, unselfish players. So, both are likely to be at the top of the other team’s scouting report.
“He doesn’t hunt shots, he’s not selfish at all,” coach McCaffery said of Murray. “A guy who’s over 6-foot-8, long who can shoot the three, drive the ball, run the floor, defend, block shots, make plays.”
“Like Keegan, he’s playing with supreme confidence right now,” coach McCaffery said of Davis. “If you overplay him, or continually double him, he’ll find people. He handles it, he drives, he posts up, he can shoot threes.”
Easily summed: Both are very good at basketball.
Want more? Because the similarities go beyond the court. The aforementioned Midwest connection, the age, but also the fact that both have their identical twin on their team.
Kris Murray is averaging 9.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just under 20 minutes for the Hawkeyes this season. Jordan Davis, Johnny’s twin, is averaging 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds for the Badgers.
“They’re two really good players, we’re two really good players, so it’ll be fun to play them,” Keegan Murray said.