By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – More might be learned about the Iowa men’s basketball team in two hours on Monday night against Virginia than what was learned in the first six games, all of which Iowa won handily.
The 6-0 Hawkeyes will take a significant step up in competition when they face 5-2 Virginia in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Iowa has topped the century mark in three of six games (Longwood, Alabama State, Western Michigan), and has won all six games by at least 17 points. The last time an Iowa team scored at least 100 points in three of its first five games was the start of the 1997-98 season.
But each of Iowa’s first six games were against massive underdogs from mid-level conferences.
That certainly won’t be the case on Monday.
“You know what you’re going to get at Virginia,” said Iowa coach Fran McCaffery. “They’re going to play really aggressive defense. They’re very physical and they play a lot of half-court, but they have really good players.”
Three-time National Coach of the Year Tony Bennett is in his 13th season as the Virginia head head coach. Bennett led Virginia to the 2019 national title and has coached there since 2009 after having spent the previous three seasons as the head coach at Washington State, where he was the 2007 National Coach of the Year.
Bennett, who is the son of former Wisconsin head coach Dick Bennett, would prefer to play at a slower pace, which is in contrast to how Iowa likes to play under Fran McCaffery.
Virginia ranks seventh nationally in scoring defense (53.6), while Iowa has led the Big Ten in scoring in four of the last eight seasons and is currently averaging 97.2 points per game.
“Tony does a really good job with his program,” Fran McCaffery said. “You’ve got to go down there ad really play well and play mistake-free basketball.”
Virginia, which lost its top three scorers from last season, has won four straight games after losing two of its first three games of the
Virginia has three players that average double figures in scoring led by Jayden Gardner at 13.4 points game.
Armaan Franklin, who played his first two seasons at Indiana, is averaging 13.0 points per game, while point guard Kihei Clark is averaging 10.3 points per game.
Sophomore forward Keegan Murray leads Iowa in scoring and is ranked second in the Big Ten at 25.7 points per game. He is also ranked fourth in the conference in rebounding (8.8) and seventh in free throw percentage (.892).
His twin brother, sophomore forward Kris Murray, is second on the team in scoring at 12.8 points per game.
Kris Murray said after Friday’s 85-51 victory over Portland State that the players were eager to hit the road for the first time and be tested by an elite opponent.
“We’re looking forward to it,” said Kris Murray. “These games were good for us to get a flow going and create our identity. It’s going to be a good challenge on Monday night and we’re excited for it.”
Monday will be the fourth overall meeting between the two programs and the first time Iowa will play Virginia in the 23 years of the Big Ten/ACC Men’s Basketball Challenge.
Iowa won the first two meetings against the Cavaliers: 73-60 in the 1997 NCAA Tournament First Round in Salt Lake City and 75-64 in the 2013 NIT Quarterfinals in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Cavaliers topped Iowa in the last meeting at the 2016 Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Florida.
Iowa vs. Virginia
When: Monday, 6 p.m.
What: Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Where: Charlottesville, Virginia, John Paul Jones Arena
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network