Bigger role expected from Josh Ogundele as Iowa basketball faces Kofi Cockburn-led Illinois

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Fran McCaffery’s undermanned Iowa basketball team nearly conquered a giant challenge Friday night in West Lafayette.

Now the Hawkeyes get another super-sized test in one of their most anticipated home games on the 2021-22 schedule. 

Iowa (7-1) on Monday will play host to Illinois (6-2) for the first time since the heated border rivals met in March’s semifinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament. Tip-off for Iowa’s Big Ten home opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena is set for 6 p.m., with Fox Sports 1 airing the game.  

There is some uncertainty surrounding the status of Keegan Murray, Iowa's star sophomore who missed Friday’s 77-70 loss at Purdue with a sprained ankle.

Josh Ogundele, left, and Kris Murray discuss their plan during Friday's 77-70 loss to Purdue. Ogundele could be in line for more minutes Monday against Illinois and center Kofi Cockburn.

Murray, a 6-foot-9 Hawkeye sophomore, is the nation’s second-leading scorer at 24.6 points per game. He’s also one of Iowa’s best defensive players, averaging 2.3 blocks per game. Iowa coach Fran McCaffery on Sunday morning that Murray would try to do some things in that afternoon's practice.

"He's a little better than he was (Thursday)," McCaffery said. "... As long as he’s ready to go, he’ll jump right back in there.”

More:Iowa basketball: Hawkeyes pull positives from Purdue loss and an update on Keegan Murray

Obviously, Murray’s return would be a huge help against an Illinois front line that includes perhaps the most imposing force the Hawkeyes will see all season in 7-foot, 285-pound center Kofi Cockburn.

Cockburn is averaging 24.0 points and 10.6 rebounds for the Illini, who are fresh off a resounding 86-51 home win against Rutgers in Friday’s Big Ten opener

"I think he's playing the best basketball of his life," McCaffery said. "He's really active. He's in great shape."

Cockburn was suspended for the first three games of the season for selling Illini gear on a website. But since his return, he has been the focal point for the Illini, particularly with guard Andre Curbelo sidelined with an injury.

Illinois center Kofi Cockburn presents a tough challenge for the Iowa basketball team. The Hawkeyes and Illini clash on Monday, Dec. 6.

To combat Cockburn, McCaffery wouldn’t hesitate to turn his biggest body on the bench in 6-foot-11, 265-pound sophomore Josh Ogundele. 

On Friday, Ogundele doubled his previous career high by playing 16 minutes against the taller Boilermakers. Though he had a minus-12 rating when he was on the floor, Ogundele gained valuable experience and scored seven points with five rebounds in his most important action as a Hawkeye.

“He's going to be important. What's great for him was to play significant minutes, play well, gain confidence, especially when you get ready to go against a guy like Kofi," McCaffery said. "We just want him to continue to work and do the things that he does well. Not try to do too much.

"He's really continued to get better. This will be a big challenge for him."

More:Without Keegan Murray, Iowa basketball gives likely No. 1 Purdue a big scare

It’ll no doubt need to be another team effort for Iowa on Monday, as it was in a spirited comeback effort at No. 2 Purdue.

Each game offers a chance for growth for a still-meshing Hawkeye roster. And this is another big week. On Thursday, Iowa visits No. 23 Iowa State in an 8 p.m. CT game at Hilton Coliseum.