Point/Counterpoint | Will Keegan Murray be the Big Ten Player of the Year?
Two DI sports editors debate the star sophomore’s chances of earning conference hardware.
February 20, 2022
From last season to this one, the Iowa men’s basketball team lost the National Player of the Year (Luka Garza), an All-Big Ten player (Joe Wieskamp), a multi-year starter who was elite offensively and defensively on the perimeter (CJ Fredrick), and a key post player off the bench (Jack Nunge). Yet, the Hawkeyes are still on track to make the NCAA Tournament.
Why? Well, mostly sophomore forward Keegan Murray.
I think a lot of people expected Murray to take a jump production wise after a breakout freshman campaign. But to look like a bona fide lottery pick? I bet Murray is even a little blown away.
The 6-foot-8, 225-pound forward is averaging 23.4 points (Garza averaged 24.1 last year), 8.2 rebounds, and two blocks per game — all while shooting 56.1 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from 3-point play. And most importantly, he’s led Iowa to an 18-8 record through 26 games. Nebraska head coach Fred Hoiberg said Murray is the most versatile player in the Big Ten, and that’s apparent in how many different ways he impacts the game. Is Iowa even over .500 without Murray? I think you could make a convincing argument that the answer is no.
There are plenty of great players in the Big Ten. Jaden Ivey, E.J. Liddell, Johnny Davis, Kofi Cockburn, and other players could win this and it would still feel deserving.
But Murray is the most deserving candidate. He means the most to his team. And his stats are nothing to scoff at, either. Murray deserves to win the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Player of the Year Award. And he is going to.
Iowa forward Keegan Murray won’t win The Big Ten Conference Men’s Basketball Player of the Year award this season, and I’m not sure if there’s anything he can do on or off the court to change that.
I’m not saying Murray isn’t deserving of the honor — 23.3 points and 8.4 rebounds per game are nothing to sneeze at. If I had a Big Ten Player of the Year vote, I’d give it to Murray.
I just don’t believe enough people that actually decide who the Big Ten Player of the Year is think like me.
In most sports, player of the year awards are biased. Athletes on good teams are always more likely to garner player of the year attention than those that are not. Even if one particular player is more valuable to their bad team than another athlete is to their high-achieving squad, the competitor on the better team traditionally wins the award.
The Hawkeyes aren’t bad this season. I said they would be terrible before their 2021-22 campaign began. I’ve since eaten those words.
However, Iowa still isn’t one of the Big Ten’s best teams. The Hawkeyes have been muddling through the middle of the league standings for most of the season.
Iowa is unlikely to receive a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis in a few weeks, judging by its current trajectory. That will tell conference player of the year voters that Iowa isn’t one of the league’s best four teams.
If the Hawkeyes don’t get a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament, voters might be inclined to cast their ballots in favor of players other than Murray. Why would they give their player of the year vote to an athlete on a middling team like Murray when they could mark their ballots in favor of competitors on the conference’s top teams like Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, Ohio State’s E.J. Liddell, or Wisconsin’s Johnny Davis?
If Keegan Murray isn’t named Big Ten Player of the Year, I’ll consider it highway robbery. Still, I just don’t see voters casting their ballots for him if Iowa isn’t one of the league’s best four teams.