Iowa vs. Wisconsin will be showcase for two rising stars
Iowa's Keegan Murray and Wisconsin's Johnny Davis both playing at elite level
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Two of the nation’s most productive, dynamic and improved players will be under the spotlight when the Iowa men’s basketball team plays at Wisconsin on Thursday.
Iowa sophomore forward Keegan Murray and Wisconsin sophomore guard Johnny Davis both are ascending to stardom in incredible fashion this season with one jaw-dropping performance after another.
If that’s not enough, they both also have a twin brother who is a college teammate, and they both have gone from being top reserves last seasons to potential NBA lottery picks this season.
They both also are coming off spectacular performances as Murray totaled 35 points and eight rebounds in an 80-75 victory over Maryland this past Monday, while Davis posted 37 points and 14 rebounds in a victory at Purdue on Monday.
And they rank first and second in the NCAA in scoring with Murray averaging 24.5 points per gamesand Davis averaging 22.3 points per game.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery was asked Wednesday on a zoom conference what impresses him the most about the 6-foot-5 Johnny Davis, who is from LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
“He plays with tremendous confidence, and he plays kind of at his pace and he can score in a variety of ways,” McCaffery said. “But he also is really adept at finding his teammates when necessary. So, you think about a guy who 37 on the road the other night that he’s just running around and attacking the basket and scoring the ball, which he’s very good at. But if you overplay him or continually double up, he’ll find people.
“He handles it. He drives it. He can post up. He shoots threes. Like with Keegan, he’s playing with extreme confidence right now.”
McCaffery also gushed about his star sophomore forward when asked what makes Keegan Murray special and unique compared to other top scorers from Iowa.
“Keegan is a pretty low-key guy, he just competes,” Fran McCaffery said. “He’s got a complete skill set and I think that is somewhat unique in the sense you’re seeing a guy who’s over 6-8, long can shoot the drive the ball run the floor, defend block shots, make plays. He doesn’t hunt shots. He’s not selfish at all. And that speaks about him as an individual. He’s as humble a guy that you’re ever going to come across. And I think he’s really appreciated by his teammates as a result of that.
“He just kind of stays even-keel. He doesn’t get too up or too down. He comes to practice every day and works, and works hard in the offseason. And when you have a guy like that, you’re just happy for him and enjoy the success he’s having and just keep trying to utilize him the best you can.”
And though much of the focus will be on the two sophomore sensations, their supporting casts will go a long way in determining the winner on Thursday.
Wisconsin is 6-1 at home this season, with the one setback coming on Nov. 15 against Providence (63-58) in the Gavitt Games.
The Badgers have had six games decided by five points or fewer, including their last three. Wisconsin is 4-1 in those contests, winning the last four.
The Badgers upset third-ranked Purdue Monday evening in West Lafayette, Indiana, 74-69, as Davis scored 27 of his career-high 37 points in the second half. Davis is the fourth player over the last 25 seasons with at least 35 points and 10 rebounds in a win over a top-five opponent.
Whichever team establishes tempo could have the upper hand as Iowa prefers to play at a much faster pace on offense than Wisconsin, although with Davis playing at such a high level, the Badgers have pushed it more this season.
“Obviously, we want to play our game, fast tempo and limit turnovers,” Keegan Murray said. ‘I think that will be a big emphasis for us to be able to establish the transition game.
“And I think getting stops will be huge for us. So, we can get out in transition and do what we do best and get easy buckets that way.”
Thursday’s game will feature two of the conference’s oldest and most veteran players in Iowa sixth-year guard Jordan Bohannon and Wisconsin fifth-year senior guard Brad Davison.
The 6-4 Davison is Wisconsin’s second leading scorer, averaging 14.5 points per game, while Bohannon is the Big Ten’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets made with 396.
Two of Bohannon’s older brothers also played for Wisconsin, so this rivalry means a lot to the Marion native.
Thursday’s game will be Bohannon’s last game in the Kohl Center.
And though it’s still early with Thursday’s game just the fourth of 20 conference games for Iowa, a loss would drop Iowa to 1-3 in the Big Ten and that would be a pretty big hole of which to dig out.
Iowa will have a week off after Thursday’s game before facing Indiana on Jan. 13 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Iowa vs. Wisconsin
When: Thursday, 8:07 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wisconsin,
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Series: Thursday will be the 171st meeting between Iowa and Wisconsin. After a three-game sweep last season, Iowa leads the all-time series, 86-84. Last season’s three-game sweep was Iowa’s first regular season sweep over the Badgers since 2011-12. Wisconsin holds a 53-30 advantage in games played in Madison. The Badgers have won 13 of the last 16 games contested in Madison. Iowa is 5-13 at the Kohl Center, winning there in 2011 (72-65), 2000 (61-55), 1998 (79-76), 2017 (59-57), and 2021 (77-62).