Robert Read, Pregame Editor

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.