Iowa men’s basketball faces first road test at Virginia

The Hawkeyes will travel to Charlottesville for the first game of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Monday against Virginia.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery argues with an official during a basketball game between Iowa and North Carolina Central at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. The Hawkeyes shot 41 free throws and converted 35 times. After the game, McCaffery acknowledged the Eagles physicality. “That’s not something you see every day,” McCaffery said. They came in here expecting to be physical, expecting to get up into us and we had to deal with it.” The Hawkeyes defeated the Eagles, 86-69.

Ben Palya, Sports Reporter

Iowa men’s basketball has started the season 6-0, notching six comfortable wins. The Hawkeyes have won each of their first six games by at least 15 points and have an average margin of victory of 31 points.

The Hawkeyes have not yet played a Power Five opponent, but head coach Fran McCaffery likes what he has seen so far from his group.

“I think we saw what we wanted to see,” McCaffery said on a Zoom call with reporters Sunday. “As we step to a team of Virginia’s caliber on the road, we will learn more.”

The Hawkeyes are just one of four remaining undefeated teams in the Big Ten after several of the conference’s top teams have faltered early in the season. 

Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio State have already suffered losses early in the season. Illinois fell to Cincinnati, while Ohio State lost to Xavier. The Wolverines lost a close game to then-No. 21 Seton Hall, 67-65.

Now, the Hawkeyes will start their Power Five slate with Virginia, Purdue, Illinois, and Iowa State having the next four games on Iowa’s schedule.

With fans back in stadiums, many Iowa players will see their first action on an away floor with an opposing crowd. Even veteran Hawkeyes will have to get used to the jeers of opposing fans — something they haven’t heard since the 2019-20 season.

“Even the guys who played a lot last year have not played in front of anyone,” McCaffery said. “We essentially have eight guys that fall into that category, but with that said, we all are excited about the opportunity.”

Iowa will start off the stretch in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Monday against Virginia. The 5-2 Cavaliers have shrugged off a slow start to the season and rattled off four consecutive wins, including victories over Providence and Georgia.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers have played stout defense throughout the first seven games of the season, allowing an average of 53.6 points per game. No team has put up over 70 points on the Cavaliers in 2021-22. Virginia has allowed a 37 percent opponent shooting percentage this year.

Iowa, on the other hand, has been an offensive juggernaut this season. The Hawkeyes average a nation-leading 97.2 points per game. Sophomore forward Keegan Murray has propelled the Hawkeyes to a strong start, averaging 25.7 points per game — second in the Big Ten.

While the Hawkeyes have skated by their first six opponents, Monday’s game against Virginia will be Iowa’s biggest test yet in the 2021-22 season.

“[Virginia has] really locked up the last four teams, which is typically something they have done over the years,” McCaffery said. “It’s back to what they normally do, putting pressure on the ball, playing through screens, challenging you at the rim, and limiting you to one shot.”

Iowa’s contest against Virginia is just one of the slate of Big Ten/ACC Challenge games this week. 

The Big Ten had a rough showing in the Gavitt Tipoff games against the Big East. Iowa didn’t participate in the Gavitt Tipoff as the Big Ten went 2-6 against Big East opposition.

The Hawkeyes will kick off the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Monday — the first match of the three-day competition.

Iowa’s game against Virginia tips off at 7 p.m. at the John Paul Jones Arena. The game will be aired on ESPN2.