Kris Murray will remain out Sunday vs. Wisconsin, plus other Iowa basketball takeaways

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

Iowa men's basketball opens conference play on Sunday at home against Wisconsin without its No. 1 player.

Junior forward Kris Murray (foot) will miss his second consecutive game after missing Iowa's 75-56 win over Iowa State on Thursday. Murray was present but wore a protective boot. Head coach Fran McCaffery didn't provide further updates on Murray's status during a Saturday zoom press conference with reporters.

Following a big win over No. 20 Iowa State, the No. 24 Hawkeyes (7-2) will face another stiff challenge in Wisconsin (7-2, 1-0). The conference rivals have met 171 times previously with Wisconsin holding a narrow 86-85 advantage. Like Iowa, the Badgers lost their top player, now-Washington Wizards guard Johnny Davis, who was a Top 10 NBA Draft pick. But through nine games, McCaffery doesn't see much drop off in this year's team.

More:Leistikow: Until Kris Murray returns, Hawkeyes find needed identity in rout of Iowa State

"Pretty much what you see from them all the time," McCaffery said. "They got (guard Chucky Hepburn) and (forwards Steven Crowl and Tyler Wahl) playing at a high level. They have some shooters, they move the ball and they guard. It's the same as usual."

Wisconsin's first Big Ten performance was an impressive one, topping previously undefeated Maryland 64-59 on Tuesday. McCaffery noted the parity in the conference is at an all-time high and Sunday's game begins an important three-game Big Ten stretch for Iowa. They start against Wisconsin on Sunday, then at Nebraska, a team that beat No. 21 Creighton, on Dec. 29 and they finish it off on the road at Penn State, who defeated No. 17 Illinois on Saturday, to begin the new year.

Anytime you play anybody in this league, you're in a fistfight," McCaffery said. "So I think from that standpoint, (what you want) is the ability to be mature in your approach, stay connected and most importantly be competitive."

Here are a few more takeaways from Saturday's media availability:

How does Iowa's offensive momentum continue against Wisconsin?

Iowa (7-2) will open up conference play on Sunday at home against Wisconsin.

Iowa's successful shooting night against Iowa State's stingy defense (50% from the field, 52% from 3-point range) broke the team out of a multi-game shooting slump. They'll face another tough defensive matchup in Wisconsin, which has held five opponents under 40% shooting and is only allowing 59.8 points per game.

If there was one area of Iowa's offense that was uncharacteristic against Iowa State, it was the team's 18 turnovers to only 16 assists. Right now the Hawkeyes rank fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.72). It didn't cost them against the Cyclones, who only scored 14 points off turnovers, but McCaffery said on Saturday that ball movement will dictate success against Wisconsin.

More:Iowa men's basketball dominates Iowa State in Kris Murray's absence, gives Fran McCaffery 500th win

"Get the defense shifted, on the move and then you drive it," McCaffery said. "You mix in your drives and your post feeds, etc. but it's not over-penetrating, not driving into packs of people, not feeding the post when there's traffic.

"It's all about decisions and unselfish play. When you do that, you do good shots. And if they're 3s or 2s, it doesn't matter because they're good shots. They're high-percentage shots and you have obviously a greater chance to make those."

Despite Murray's absence, McCaffery can rely on veteran experience to weather Wisconsin's defensive pressure. This time last year, McCaffery referenced the team's inexperience. This year, his shortened six to seven-man rotations are comprised entirely of upperclassmen, except sophomore Payton Sandfort, who played in 34 games last season.

"There's just no substitute for it," McCaffery said. "I went with veteran guys down the stretch the other night in a tough rivalry game; league game (on Sunday) against the tough physical team. We're going to need everybody, especially with Kris out, so you go with your veteran guys who understand how to process one game plan to another and know to play at the end of the game, how to play when teams start pressing or changing defenses or running different stuff."

McCaffery provided an assessment of Josh Dix's development

Iowa guard Josh Dix (4) is progressing well in his first year says coach Fran McCaffery.

While talking about the veteran players, McCaffery noted that one year in the Big Ten is tremendous experience and in that light, it's his responsibility to try and find minutes for true freshmen Dasonte Bowen and Josh Dix.

McCaffery spoke specifically of Dix on Saturday, who is still just 10 months removed from a serious leg injury suffered during his senior season of high school. Dix clocked 11 minutes against Iowa State and has appeared in seven of nine games thus far. Murray's injury could open the door for Dix to have a bigger role for the foreseeable future, which McCaffery feels like he's ready for.

"He's just a really good player," McCaffery said. "He's not going to make mistakes. He's going to fight you. He defends, he's smart and plays multiple positions. And as the season goes on, obviously we're going to be rotating a lot of guys and he's going to be right in the middle of it."