Hawkeyes ready for ‘new era’ Illini

Hawkeye Headquarters

Iowa guard Joe Toussaint (2) celebrates the win over Virginia with teammates Tony Perkins (11) and Kris Murray (24) after an NCAA college basketball game in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Iowa defeated Virginia 75-74. (AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff)

 

For the second game in a row, the Hawkeyes will get the pleasure of playing one of the biggest players in the Big Ten. Friday, they fell to 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, 6-foot-10 Trevion Williams and now-No. 1 Purdue. It was a valiant effort by the Hawkeyes without the help of the nation’s leading scorer, Keegan Murray.

They hope to have him back for this game.

“He’s a little better than he was,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think as long as he’s ready to go, he’ll jump back in there.”

It’ll be a huge boost for the Hawkeyes, who now get to see the 7-foot, 285 pound Kofi Cockburn. Murray is also the Hawkeyes’ leading rebounder.

Cockburn a big reason why the Illini have won three straight against the Hawkeyes, averaging 15.7 points and eight rebounds in those wins. After missing some games early on due to a suspension, he’s been even better this season, scoring 24 points and 10.6 rebounds per game on 68 percent shooting so far this season.

“I think he’s playing the best basketball of his life,” McCaffery said. “He’s really active. He’s in great shape.”

So how do you contain an All-American playing arguably the best basketball of his career? The answer just might be a player who’s played only 35 minutes through eight games. That’d be backup center Josh Ogundele.

“I think he’s going to be important,” Fran McCaffery said of the London native.

He played a career-high 16 minutes against Purdue. That’s double his previous career high that he set earlier this season.

And as a team, it was a mixed bag against the Boilermaker big men. Edey finished with just six points and seven rebounds, but Trevion Williams finished with 13 points and 18 rebounds. The Hawkeyes were outrebounded 42-30.

“I think it was good for him to have played Edey and Trevion on Friday,” McCaffery said. “It was great for him to play significant minutes, play well, gain confidence, especially when you get ready to go up against a guy like Kofi.”

The Illini are 21st in the country in rebounding, grabbing 42.5 per game, the Hawkeyes are 106th.

It’s not just Kofi who’s dangerous, but due to graduation, transfers and the NBA, it’s also very different team from the one that swept the top-10 Hawkeyes last season. A “new era” as McCaffery called it.

“They have a lot of weapons,” he said.

Alfonso Plummer, a Utah transfer, is second on the team in scoring at 15.1 points per game and has lit it up from three, shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. A couple guys with smaller roles last year, in senior guard Jacob Granderson and sophomore big man Coleman Hawkins have played well in bigger roles this season. Three guards in Trent Frazier, Da’Monte Williams and Andre Curbelo, that were so stellar last year, are also back and dangerous.

The problem has been they can’t all stay on the court together. Four players in Illinois regular rotation have missed games, yet they still sit at 6-2 on the season.

“They’ve been able to survive because they have talent, they have veterans, and they’ve got shotmakers. They’re a really difficult team to prepare for,” McCaffery said.

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