IOWA CITY, Iowa - Keegan Murray, who has started a total of four games at Iowa, has been voted one of the elite players in a talent-rich Big Ten.
As the old television jingle used to say, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”
The Big Ten released its preseason all-league team on Monday. The list was expanded to 11 players because of a tie in the media voting. And the sophomore forward was included, giving the Hawkeyes a presence for a third straight season. Joe Wieskamp was on the team the previous two seasons. Luka Garza was the preseason player of the year choice heading into 2020-21.
Murray might be the most unlikely member of this year’s team from a recruiting standpoint. As a senior at Cedar Rapids Prairie, Western Illinois is the only Division I program that offered him a scholarship. Kudos to the Leathernecks.
A year of prep school helped Murray refine his skill set, which has continually changed as he’s continued to grow and add bulk to his frame. Keegan grew another inch in the offseason, and now stands 6-9.
“I hope to stop growing now,” said Murray, who finished last season at 205 pounds and starts his sophomore season at 225. “I put on a little weight, and that’s been good. My speed’s increased, and my vertical (jump) has improved a little from last year.”
Murray played 555 minutes as a rookie. But 377 of them came during the Big Ten season, when he started road games at Illinois, Indiana and Michigan State and at home game against Ohio State. His season averages of 7.2 points and 5.1 rebounds weren’t overpowering on an experienced team, but he did enough to introduce himself to the other 13 Big Ten coaches. And he’ll be a key piece of opponents’ scouting reports moving forward.
Keegan’s “hello world’ introduction to the Big Ten came in a 77-75 victory at Rutgers on Jan. 2. He had 14 points and nine rebounds in that one, and made two clutch free throws late in the game.
But my “hello world’ moment came much earlier in the season, a December 8 matchup against North Carolina in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The Tar Heels had rallied to take a 68-67 lead. Iowa responded with a 14-0 run and won, 93-80. Early in that run, Murray rebounded a Garza miss, scored as he got fouled by preseason ACC player of the year Garrison Brooks and made the free throw. It was Brooks’s fourth foul. Murray went on to make the Big Ten all-freshman team in a vote of coaches.
Three other members of that team joined Murray on the all-Big Ten preseason team - freshman of the year Hunter Dickinson of Michigan, Andre Curbelo of Illinois and Jaden Ivey of Purdue. Murray’s inclusion on the team is a projection more than a reflection of past accomplishments. Eight of the 11 players on the list are averaging double figures scoring for their careers. The exceptions are Murray, Curbelo and Houstan, who hasn’t played a game so far. Dickinson was a second-team all-American pick by the Associated Press after averaging 14.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and logging 729 minutes.
Curbelo, a guard, was named the Big Ten’s sixth man of the year after averaging 9.1 points and playing 664 minutes. Ivey, also a guard, averaged 11.1 points and played 557 minutes. This year’s team is unique in that it includes someone from every class: seniors Trevion Williams of Purdue, Ron Harper, Jr., of Rutgers and Eric Ayala of Maryland; juniors Kofi Cockburn of Illinois, E.J. Liddell of Ohio State and Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, sophomores Murray, Ivey, Curbelo and Dickinson; and freshman Caleb Houstan of Michigan.
The team also shows the Big Ten has a wide recruiting base, with players from Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Ontario, New Jersey, Virginia, Delaware, Iowa and two each from Indiana and Illinois on the list.
Cockburn and Jackson-Davis are also on AP’s five-man preseason all-American team. Every player on the Big Ten’s preseason team ranks among the top 81 players in the nation, according to CBS Sports. That includes five players in the top 11.Cockburn, also the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year, is No. 2. Williams is No. 6, Jackson-Davis No. 8, Dickinson 10 and Liddell 11.
Then comes Ayala at 22, Ivey 23, Curbelo. 24, Harper. 41, Murray. 57 and Houstan 81. Cockburn, who has contemplated leaving Illinois for the NBA after each of the past two seasons, has averaged 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds for his career. Jackson-Davis, who also considered the NBA, returns with career averages of 16.1 points and 8.7 rebounds. He has led the Hoosiers in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots in each of his two seasons. Ayala and Harper are the most experienced players when it comes to experience. Harper has started 76 of 89 games, averaged 11.4 points and 4.9 rebounds and played 2,427 minutes. Ayala has started 81 of 94 games for the Terrapins, averaging 10.6 points and playing 2,824 minutes.
The preseason all-Big Ten team doesn’t guarantee success, but it has a pretty solid track record.
Garza and Ayo Dosunmu were unanimous picks on last season’s preseason team, and were joined by Cockburn, Jackson-Davis, Williams, Wieskamp, Aaron Henry of Michigan State, Marcus Carr of Minnesota, Geo Baker of Rutgers and Nate Reuvers of Wisconsin. Garza and Dosunmu were named to the five-man first team unanimously in a vote of the coaches after the season, joined by Cockburn, Williams and the only player not on the preseason list, Ohio State’s Liddell.
Jackson-Davis and Wieskamp were joined on the second team by Dickinson and Michigan teammates Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner. Reuvers was the only member of the preseason team not to make one of the three all-Big Ten teams.
The development of Murray, and how he deals with the added attention from opposition defenses, will say a lot about whether or not the Hawkeyes can exceed expectations.