Iowa basketball: Three things to watch when Hawkeyes travel to No. 2 Purdue on Friday
Without question, Iowa's one-point win over Virginia this week was their biggest win of the young season.
Heading into that game, the Hawkeyes had played a relatively weak schedule that resulted in blowout after blowout.
It also resulted in questions about how well the Hawkeyes would handle the step up in competition that began with that victory over the 2019 national champions.
Of course, that question is not answered fully yet. But it did provide a glimpse into this team's resiliency, Hawkeyes star Keegan Murray said.
"We haven't fought as much adversity as a lot of teams have early on," Murray said. "To in that environment and go on runs, have them go on runs and to withstand that and keep the lead and win the game shows our resilience as a basketball team."
The Hawkeyes have a massive test awaiting them on Friday. No. 2 ranked Purdue and Mackey Arena have not been kind to Iowa in past years — the Hawkeyes have lost their last four trips to West Lafayette, Indiana by an average of 24 points per contest.
This is perhaps Matt Painter's best team yet. Purdue defeated Florida State 93-65 on Tuesday night and, with a Duke loss this week, the Boilermakers should be ranked No. 1 in the country in next week's polls … if they beat Iowa.
"Purdue is probably as deep a team as I've seen, and I mean over a long period of time," coach Fran McCaffery said. "They've had nine different guys start. They have a quality player at every position and a quality backup at every position. All of them can score. They have multiple 3-point shooters. They have a lot of size. They have experience.
So they'll be No. 1 essentially with Duke losing. I thought they were No. 1 already, personally."
Here are three things to watch in Friday night's game:
Can Iowa contain Purdue's front court?
One glaring mismatch in Friday's contest is the size advantage that Purdue has over Iowa. The Boilermakers have two near seven-footers in freshman Caleb Furst, senior Trevion Williams as well as Zach Edey, who's listed at 7-foot-4 and 295 pounds and is otherworldly efficient. They've been able to use that advantage so far and lead the Big Ten in all rebounding categories: offensive, defensive and rebound margin.
Allowing offensive rebounds hurt Iowa against Virginia as they allowed nine offensive rebounds and 12 second chance points.
"We had that one stretch where three times they got second shots," McCaffery said. "You're on the road, it's a tight game. You get them to miss, you want to give them one if you can."
Center Filip Rebraca was the only true big to play for Iowa against Virginia and will be called on first to try and limit Purdue's big men. But stopping that trio will take a collective effort.
"I go out there every night and try my best to battle, I don't care how tall a person is," Rebraca said. "I don't think it's just up to me. I need to try my best but it's a team effort to stop those guys."
Expect both Keegan and Kris Murray to assist Rebraca in post defense and with rebounding around the basket. The Hawkeyes narrowly outrebounded a bigger Virginia team (30-29) and will seek another close margin on Friday. This is just the first of what will be several height and weight mismatches in the front court this year but Iowa's focusing on using that to their own advantage especially on offense.
"You're giving up size and you have to deal with that on the defensive end," McCaffery said. "Well, maybe you can stretch the floor a little bit more, go off the dribble a little bit more, and ultimately maybe make some threes, drive the ball, maybe draw some fouls, that kind of thing."
Hawkeyes travel to another hostile crowd
Iowa's win over Virginia was also significant in that it was their first road win of the season. In fact, only three players — Jordan Bohannon, Connor McCaffery and Joe Toussaint — had any playing experience in front of a large arena prior to Monday. Rebraca, a North Dakota transfer, has played in big arenas as well but notes that a Big Ten game is different.
"I've played in big arenas but it was never a rivalry type thing," Rebraca said. "It's crazy how much different it is when there's a rivalry and there's that many people. It makes for a great atmosphere."
Mackey Arena will be filled to capacity as the school announced Friday's game a sellout. How much carry over is there from one atmosphere in Virginia to this one?
A lot, says Bohannon.
"These younger guys were able to get a feel for that," Bohannon said. "They've finally got that under their belt and they know what it's like. Mackey's something you can't really compare to anything in the world, it's one of the loudest places I've played."
Every game is a learning experience for this Iowa team. For a lot of younger players, playing through waves of fan momentum is critical to the success of the team. Against Virginia, the Hawkeyes relied on Toussaint slowing the pace down at the end and Bohannon's timely three-pointers to pace the teams in adverse moments. Bohannon especially, his veteran presence in those moments is perhaps the most important contribution to this year's team.
Keegan Murray described Monday night's win as a huge win in a huge atmosphere. Friday night will be as big as it gets at this point in the season.
"We're a group that's really hungry to go in there and prove ourselves," Murray said. "When you're a kid you want to be in those big moments. That big stage, playing in front of a sold out crowd against the top team in the country just adds an exclamation point on it for the season."
Battle of super sophomores Keegan Murray and Jaden Ivey
If it's not too early to check 2022 NBA mock drafts, both Keegan Murray and Purdue's Jaden Ivey appeared as projected Top 10 picks in Sports Illustrated's first listing last week.
Murray is the nation's top scorer at 24.6 points, accompanied with 8.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. Meanwhile, Ivey is averaging 15.4 points, 6.3 rebounds and is shooting 52% from the field.
"He's a great player, he's athletic," Murray said. "He's a future NBA player so just looking forward that matchup with our team."
Murray himself brushed off any questions about the NBA and said his focus is on right now with this team. In the most immediate future that's a matchup against Ivey and potentially the nation's new No. 1 team. For both coaches, limiting the other's star sophomore is top of their priority list.
"It's a great challenge for our team, and it's going to be a great environment," McCaffery said. "It's one of the places if you've been watching, they've been full. Their fans are excited about that team, and they well should be."
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.
Iowa men's basketball face their toughest challenge yet in top-ranked Purdue on Friday.