Kris Murray, Connor McCaffery will return to face sellout crowd at Nebraska
Iowa will try to bounce back from worst loss under Fran McCaffery
By Pat Harty
The Iowa men’s basketball team will be at full strength when it faces Nebraska and its sellout crowd on Thursday in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said Wednesday on a zoom conference with the media that junior forward Kris Murray and sixth-year senior guard Connor McCaffery both will play against the Cornhuskers after having been out with injuries.
Murray has missed the last four games due to what has been described as a lower body injury, while Connor McCaffery missed last Thursday’s stunning 93-82 loss to Eastern Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The loss to Eastern Illinois, which entered the game 3-9, is considered the biggest upset in college basketball over the past 30 years, and is without question the worst loss in the Fran McCaffery era, which dates back to the 2010-11 season.
Iowa obviously struggled without Kris Murray and Connor McCaffery, so to have them both back as Big Ten play heats up is reason for optimism.
Iowa is trying to avoid starting 0-2 in Big Ten play after having lost to Wisconsin 78-75 in the Big Ten opener on Dec. 11 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
However, the Hawkeyes will be matched against a Nebraska team that is playing much better under fourth-year head coach Fred Hoiberg, and that will also have the support of a raucous sellout crowd.
Nebraska is just 7-6 overall and 0-2 in the Big Ten, but it nearly knocked off top-ranked Purdue, losing 65-62 in overtime on Dec. 10th in Lincoln.
“I think everybody recognize how good they are,” Fran McCaffery said. “We saw the Purdue game. That game could have gone either way.”
Nebraska is first in the Big Ten and seventh in the nation in fewest fouls per game at just 13.2.
Senior guard Sam Griesel ranks fifth in the conference in assists (52) and sixth in assists per game (4.3). Junior forward Juwan Gary is third in the league in steals (23) and sixth in rebounds (91).
Nebraska is shooting 44.4 percent from the field, 29.7 percent from 3-point range, and 65.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Its current roster includes eight transfers, and of the nine non-transfers remaining, eight are freshmen.
The Iowa players, meanwhile, will have had week to bounce back from the loss to Eastern Illinois when they take the floor on Thursday.
Perhaps the time off will be beneficial because it has allowed for both Kris Murray and Connor McCaffery to heal.
The 6-foot-8 Murray leads Iowa in scoring (19.4) and rebounding (10.1), while the 6-6 Connor McCaffery, who is Fran McCaffery’s son, has only missed one free throw this season (23-of-24) and has made 19 consecutive free throws dating back to the second half of the Georgia Tech game.
Connor McCaffery has posted double-doubles in two of Iowa’s last five contests. He has played in 145 career games as a Hawkeye, second most behind Jordan Bohannon (179).
Kris Murray’s absence has also led to 6-9 senior Filip Rebraca playing a more significant role on offense.
Over the last four games, Rebraca is averaging 21.5 points, 9.0 rebounds (9.0), 3.5 assists (3.5), 1.5 steals (1.5), and 1.5 blocked shots, all of which are team bests during that stretch.
He is shooting a blistering 77.3 percent (34-of-44) from the field during that span.
And though the loss to Eastern Illinois was a horrible way to enter the Christmas break, Fran McCaffery likes how his players have bounced back in practice.
“They came back ready,” Fran McCaffery said. “They’ve practiced hard. They were locked in. Everybody was here.”
Iowa (8-4, 0-1) vs. Nebraska (7-6, 0-2)
When: Thursday, 6:05 p.m.
Where: Lincoln, Nebraska, (Pinnacle Arena)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: Hawkeye Radio Network
Series: Iowa holds a 24-13 advantage in the series. The Hawkeyes have won 12 of the 18 meetings since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, including both contests last season. Nebraska holds a 10-7 edge over Iowa in games played in Lincoln. Thursday will be Iowa’s seventh visit to Pinnacle Bank Arena. The Hawkeyes won by 10 points (88-78) on their last visit to Lincoln on Feb. 25, 2022. Two of the last five games played in Lincoln between Iowa and Nebraska have gone to overtime: 2017 (93-90 Nebraska win in double overtime) and 2019 (93-91 Nebraska victory).