By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Sometimes, it helps to listen to somebody from the outside to fully appreciate what you have.
Those who follow and cover the Iowa men’s basketball team are now used to seeing Keegan Murray perform at a level that so very few ever reach.
The 6-foot-8 sophomore forward from Cedar Rapids has turned the extraordinary into ordinary.
Murray was named a first team All American by the Associated Press on Tuesday, marking three consecutive seasons in which Iowa has had a first-team selection with Luka Garza having been picked the previous two seasons.
Keegan Murray isn’t taken for granted by those who follow the Iowa team. It’s just that after a while it becomes almost routine to see Murray do something spectacular because he does it so often.
That’s why it was interesting to hear Richmond coach Chris Mooney talk about Keegan Murray’s greatness, and how he impacts a game, during a zoom conference on Tuesday.
Mooney is faced with the daunting task of trying to figure a way to at least contain Keegan Murray in preparation for Thursday’s game against Iowa in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Buffalo, New York.
Mooney was pleased with how his team defended in its 64-62 victory over Davidson in the Atlantic-10 Championship game this past weekend, and that gives him hope because he sees some similarities between Iowa and Davidson in that both teams pass the ball well.
The one big difference, however, is that Davidson doesn’t have a player that is anywhere close to being as good as Keegan Murray.
“Trying to guard this level of player is going to be extremely difficult for the full forty minutes,” Mooney said. “And we just need to have some little victories in those possessions, even when he does score, and make it just a little bit harder for him if we possibly can.
“And over the course of forth minutes, hopefully, we can guard him enough and make it difficult enough for him that he doesn’t make every shot.”
Mooney hardly sounds like a coach who thinks he can shutdown Keegan Murray because Mooney is smart enough to realize that he can’t do that.
Keegan Murray is performing at such an elite level right now that an opposing team’s only hope is to try to contain him, and to make things difficult for him on both ends of the court.
“Keegan Murray is tremendous,” Mooney said. “He’s going to be a lottery pick, a great player. He can just score in so many ways. He’s athletic, but he can shoot. He’s smooth, really an impressive player.”
Thursday’s matchup in Buffalo will be against two head coaches that grew up in Philadelphia about 10 years apart.
The 49-year old Mooney has great respect for Iowa coach Fran McCaffery.
In addition to growing up in the same city, they both played basketball for Ivy League schools with Mooney a former star forward for Princeton, and with McCaffery and former standout guard from the University of Pennsylvania.
“They’re great on offense, tremendous on offense and they’ve been great on offense probably in Fran’s whole tenure there,” Mooney said of Iowa. “Year in and year out they put so much pressure on you because of their ability to score the ball. Great shooting, very low turnovers for a team that plays at a fast pace and passes, very, very low turnovers.
So, they’re getting shots with guys that can make shots. Great style of play where the players are making most of the decisions and know how to play. Older guys, really a tremendous team.”
Iowa and Richmond are both peaking at the right time after having some rough spots along the way.
Richmond entered the A-10 Tournament as a No.6 seed and had to win the tournament to make the NCAA Tournament, while Iowa only had 4-6 record in conference play heading into February.
Iowa has since won 12 of its last 14 games, while Keegan Murray has become the all-time single season scoring leader in program history with 801 points.
Keegan Murray would certainly build on his legacy should he lead Iowa to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1999.
But it’ll take two wins to get there, and the journey starts against Richmond on Thursday.
Iowa is seeded fifth in the Midwest Region, while Richmond is the 12 seed.
This matchup has a history of producing upsets in the NCAA Tournament as five No. 12 seeds have defeated a five-seed since 2017, including three in 2019.
Iowa vs. Richmond
When: Thursday, 2:10 CST
Where: Buffalo, New York (KeyBank Center)
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Records: No. 16 Iowa is 26-9; Richmond is 23-12
Series: This will be the first meeting between the two schools.