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ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Breaking down the Virginia-Iowa matchup

Big Ten/ACC ChallengeWho checks Keegan Murray? is the question of the night for the Virginia side of tonight’s matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Iowa.

The 6’8” forward averaged a modest 7.2 points per game last season as a freshman, but has emerged as a force as a sophomore, pouring in 25.7 points per on 62.2 percent shooting from the field, and he can stretch defenses on the perimeter, shooting 36.0 percent from three on a decent number of hoists (4.2 per game).

Now, let’s be clear: the Hawkeyes haven’t been tested yet. Their best win to date, such as it is, is over Longwood, which is ranked 202nd by, and Iowa has yet to play a game away from home on its way to a 6-0 start.

Murray has been putting up his nice numbers against bottom-feeders, so tonight’s test against the UVA Pack-Line will really be his first.

But Tony Bennett doesn’t have a De’Andre Hunter or Braxton Key to put on Murray, a classic stretch four.

Bennett likely starts with 6’6” forward Jayden Gardner (0.62 points per possession allowed, per Synergy Sports), with help in the post with post-to-post doubles from Kadin Shedrick and Francisco Caffaro.

Gardner may have to log some serious minutes tonight, and must avoid early foul trouble, because there’s no obvious other solutions to the Murray problem.

His backups at the four spot are 6’8” senior Kody Stattmann, a serviceable position defender, and 6’10” freshman Igor Milicic Jr., who isn’t all that likely to get rotation minutes tonight, honestly, except in the case of an emergency.

Murray isn’t a one-man show for Iowa, which has three other double-digit scorers – Kris Murray, Keegan’s 6’8” twin brother, averages 12.8 points a game off the bench, 6’9” sophomore Patrick McCaffery, averages 12.5 a game, and Jordan Bohannon, a 6’1” senior guard, is good for 10.0 points per.

Joe Toussaint, a 6’0” junior, is the engine – scoring just 5.7 points per game, but dishing out 5.0 assists per contest, and he can finish (50.0 percent shooting).

Filip Rebraca, a 6’9” senior, starts at center, and leads the team in rebounding (7.7 per game), while contributing around the rim (5.8 points per, 59.1 percent shooting).

The depth with the bigs is a challenge, and don’t be surprised to see Iowa coach Fran McCaffery going with a frontcourt of 6’8”, 6’8” and 6’9” for stretches to try to force Bennett to slide Gardner to small forward with Shedrick and Caffaro at four and five.

Bennett prefers to go three-guard with points Kihei Clark (10.3 points per game, 3.9 assists per game) and Reece Beekman (6.7 points per game, 4.3 assists per game) alongside shooter Armaan Franklin (13.0 points per game, 45.1 percent shooting), with Gardner (13.4 points per game, 53.2 percent shooting) providing the scoring punch.

It will be incumbent upon, as mentioned, Gardner to avoid early foul trouble, and also for Shedrick (6.6 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 3.3 blocks per game) to do the same.

Shedrick has had at least three fouls in six of Virginia’s seven games this season, putting a cramp in his minutes.

Caffaro (3.3 points per game, 4.7 rebounds per game) is the only other five on the roster for Bennett, and he’s been foul-prone as well – with three or more fouls in four games to this point this season.

If both of those guys get into foul trouble, you may see more minutes for the untested Milicic (2.8 points per game, 7.7 minutes per game), or you may see Gardner slide over to five as Bennett tries to counter Iowa’s bigs by going small.

Story by Chris Graham

augusta free press
augusta free press