Iowa men's basketball to play first road game at Virginia
It's hard to imagine a better start for the Iowa's men's basketball team, but on Monday night the Hawkeyes will be put to the test.
The Hawkeyes (6-0) travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, to take on the University of Virginia (5-2) as a part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Iowa has had a pretty easy go of it through six games, but there's a reason for that, according to coach Fran McCaffery. He wanted to see players build confidence, work through mistakes and experiment with different lineups before an uptick in competition. On Sunday, he expressed that he feels like those goals were accomplished.
"I think we saw what we wanted to see," McCaffery said. "As we step up to a team of Virginia's caliber on the road I think we'll find out more. This is a team that's deep, talented, physical and play together. We'll see how we perform on the road against a team of that caliber."
Virginia has grown into one of college basketball's premier programs with defense as its calling card. The Cavliers are ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (53.6) and are on a four-game winning streak after losing their previous two games. Without question, it'll be the Hawkeyes' biggest challenge to date.
Virginia's pack-line (sagging man-to-man) defensive strategy aims to clog the inside, protect the paint, and prevent dribble-penetration. The Hawkeyes have seen that look a few times in the early slate and have had success.
Iowa is averaging 97.2 points per game, with 42 of those points coming from the painted area. Keegan Murray, the nation's leading scorer at 25.7 points per game, has been particularly effective scoring around the goal, as well as brother Kris Murray and center Filip Rebraca in limited touches.
Iowa must continue to take care of the ball. McCaffery's team leads the Big Ten in turnover margin (8.25) and is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.22).
"You can't make poor decisions, whether that's in transition or half-court," McCaffery said. "You have to do what works ... ball movement, intelligent passing and move the ball side-to-side, in-and-out. And you got to have good activity whether it's cuts or screens so it's a good shot and not a rushed shot at the end of the shot clock."
Iowa's challenge is compounded by what could be a hostile road crowd. The Hawkeyes have veterans like Jordan Bohannon and Connor McCaffery but even players like Keegan Murray who played large roles last year did so without fans present. Looking at the rest of the roster, the majority of the team will play significant road minutes for the first time.
"When you have more of a veteran club it's less of a factor," McCaffery said. "This is a young group and even the guys who played a lot last year haven't played in front of anybody so essentially we have about eight guys who fall into that category. But we're excited about the opportunity. That's what you sign up for when you play in the Big Ten."
Knowing that, will Iowa's rotation shrink heading into Monday? McCaffery said some of it will depend on which lineup generates momentum throughout the game. Use the North Carolina Central game as an example, when McCaffery played three bench players (Connor McCaffery, Tony Perkins and Ahron Ulis) for the final 13 minutes.
McCaffery expressed confidence in the team's depth and expects to play most of the roster against Virginia.
"I'm feeling pretty confident in our top 10-11 guys," McCaffery said. "I would anticipate playing all of them."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.