I admit up front that this very well could be a fool’s errand, or at best, a waste of time.
However, if it’s my time, then I can choose how I spend it. Since you’re here, your interest was piqued somehow to find your way here….so that makes it our time…and let’s spend some of it.
First, a few notes I truly stumbled upon in writing this and putting projections down in a spreadsheet…which I took a look at some historic analogs for some of the players and made educated guesses on others.
You already know Keegan Murray is good. Really good. I have been talking about his eventual stardom since my early December (then) Patreon podcasts.
Keegan Murray played like a junior who has been in spots like that for three years….I have been saying this on the podcast for weeks, but he is going to be an absolute star at Iowa. Elite level hustle, defensive disrupter, great ball skills…he will be 1st team All Big Ten
— Jon D. Miller (@hawkeyepodcast) January 2, 2021
As I was projecting his stats for next year, I decided to throw something in the awesome Play Index at sports-reference.com. I was curious to see how many Big Ten freshmen, since 1992, scored at least 7.8 points per game, had 5.5 rebounds per game and 1.1 blocks per game in conference play. I had a sneaking feeling that number was not large. I was surprised at the results, which you can see here.
Murray is one of 15 Big Ten freshman to post these numbers. Of the other 14, 8 made either made it to or are presently playing in the NBA. Four of them (Trayce Jackson-Davis, Kofi Cockburn, Hunter Dickinson and Giorgi Bezhanishvili) played in the Big Ten this past year. Mike Watkins is playing in Europe and the last player not yet referenced was Melsahn Basabe, who was jerked around a bit by Fran McCaffery relative to his weight early in his career. McCaffery had him bulk to 235 for one season but cut back down to 222 the following year because Fran didn’t feel he was as good a player when he was heavier as he was when he was lighter. Watkins and Basabe are playing basketball for a living overseas.
That’s a pretty good list to be included in, wouldn’t you say? If I take those same three statistics and add the .8 steals per game, the list is Cody Zeller, Miles Bridges, Giorgi and Mike Watkins. Of those five players, Murray is the second best rebounder behind Miles Bridges on a PER 40 basis and the third best scorer. You can see why ESPN tossed his name in a 2022 mock NBA draft as a first rounder; he is so well rounded with incredible potential.
I have Murray down for 14/ppg and 8/rpg. Before some of you say, ‘Jon, he will do better than that’, keep in mind that just 13 Big Ten sophomores have done at least that since 1992. The list includes Chris Weber, Glen Robinson, Jared Sullinger, Caleb Swanigan, Jalen Smith, Rashard Griffith, Joel Pryzbilla and Trace Jackson-Davis. When I add in the 1.7 blocks per game I think Murray will mix in, that list drops down to just five players. Keegan is gonna be in good company.
Iowa has averaged 78.6/ppg over the past eight seasons. This includes 69.8 in 2014-2015, an outlier to the low. This year’s team averaged 83.7. If we toss out that high and low we get an average of 79.2.
The total’s I came up with for this year’s team was 80.5. As I do with most everything I write, the idea for what I write about is a simple fact finding mission that turns into something else. This was no different, and I assure you that I was not trying to retcon into something that looked like an average Fran McCaffery offense. That 80.5 happened to total near where Iowa has been on the average over the past several years.
I will admit I was glad to see that, but it was purely accidental. As to whether or not you want to give any credence to these numbers, it’s your call. My guess is that my estimation is too high and the number will be closer to 77-ish.
I see Jordan Bohannon returning to his sophomore, pre-Luka Garza exponential statistical explosion era scoring level; he averaged 13.5/ppg during his sophomore year and averaged just over 30 minutes per game. Filip Rebraca is a big wild card and I could have his point totals and rebounding totals too high, but then again I could see Murray stretching to 15 or possibly 16 per game, too.
Iowa averaged 39.7 rebounds per game this past year, so my 35.3 total seems in the ballpark. But it still feels a bit heavy to me, as Luka Garza was a monster on the boards, Jack Nunge could hold his own and Joe Wieskamp rebounded extremely well (6.6/rpg). However, Filip Rebraca will board, Murray is an exceptional rebounder (Garza averaged 8.7 but I think pound for pound, Murray is a better rebounder than Garza)
I believe next year’s team will be a better defensive team than this year’s team was. Just how much better will be the determining factor as to whether or not they will qualify for the NCAA tournament.
If I squint, I see an at-large bid somewhere in the nine to 11 seed range. But my eyesight ain’t what it used to be.