The Hyball: Hoops Spring Eternal

By Bobby Loesch on April 1, 2021 at 12:00 pm
Keegan Rocky
54 Comments

The Hyball is a weekly Iowa men's basketball column

It's been a sad and disappointing few weeks.. but this Hawk Central piece got me going.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Keegan Murray’s freshman season on the Iowa men’s basketball team began with his coaches telling him that a commitment to rebounding was the best path to getting any playing time.

It ended with the most decorated Hawkeye of them all, Luka Garza, pulling him aside to tell him: “I couldn’t take us there. But you can. You’ve got to be a leader next year.”

You know that's some Rocky IV shit, right? From the scene where Rocky talks to Duke (the late Apollo Creed's trainer).

Apollo was like my son. I raised him. And when he died a part of me died. But now you're the one. You're the one that's gonna keep his spirit alive. You're the one that's gonna make sure that he didn't die for nothing. Now you're gonna have to go through hell. Worse than any nightmare you ever dreamed. But in the end, I know you'll be the one standing.

The only obstacles between Keegan Murray and all-time greatness are the 2021-22 Big Ten and Communist Russia.

By Tuesday evening, Murray was back in the gym, this time with his father Kenyon and twin brother Kris, putting up shots and lifting weights. The Cedar Rapids native will be doing that all summer, he said, using work as a way to forget about a lost opportunity for his Hawkeyes.

“We’re going to have a lot to prove,” Murray said of next year’s Hawkeye squad, which figures to be short on experience. “I’m very hungry.”

(hopefully more weights than shots but) let's goooooo

Pepper in some Patrick to break our hearts just one more time:

For McCaffery, Monday’s result was especially acute. His father, Fran, has been Iowa’s head coach for 11 years. He has never gotten a team to the second week of March Madness.

“That probably was the thing I struggled with the most,” Patrick McCaffery said. “I wanted it really bad for Luka and JBo, but my dad never having been there as a head coach, I really wanted to do that for him. I have four more years of eligibility, so hopefully I can get him back there.”

Turns focus to our original Man To Watch.

Murray is a competitor who chases any goal put in front of him. He had never focused specifically on rebounding before because an athletic 6-8 high school player is naturally going to accumulate plenty of them without really trying.

Murray spent the summer striving to be Iowa’s leading rebounder in each practice. He didn’t quite get there, but he was usually second only to Garza. And that was enough to get Fran McCaffery to extend his rotation to nine players.

This is some "younger sibling poised to be the eventual alpha" lore.

Iowa never called a single play intended to get Murray a shot. He never posted up. He got his points through sheer hustle or by being ready to launch whenever Garza passed out of a double-team. He used to view himself as a wing; now Murray realizes he is at his best as a “stretch 4.”

OK, this I'm less excited about. Maybe call one play for one of your better players, this past season.

As fate would have it, that’s exactly what Iowa will need next year, when Jack Nunge returns from knee surgery to replace Garza at center. 

Uh, about that.

More Patrick:

“We can still accomplish similar things (as this season’s third-place Big Ten team). We’re going to have more athletes. We’re going to fly up and down the court. We’re going to play really hard,” McCaffery said. “We’re going to be young, but we’ll still have a team that people can rally around.”

While Murray was in the gym Tuesday evening, McCaffery and his roommate Toussaint were getting a motivational visit from Garza. The message was the same one Garza delivered to Murray: “You have what it takes to get Iowa back to where it needs to go, which is the Sweet 16, and hopefully further than that.”

“I think that’s something that we’re going to listen to,” McCaffery said.

And also play more defense maybe!

Last word to Keegan, because that's his right.

Murray, 48 hours after his rookie year ended, was already thinking about his role as a leader on his sophomore team.

“It will be really interesting to see how we intertwine this offseason. We’re going to work this entire offseason to get better for next year,” Murray said.

“I just think the sky’s the limit for our team. I think we’ll be a problem in the Big Ten.”

Maybe it's because I watched the Biggie doc this week, but...

The Hyball

"People go into war with beliefs, but they come out with facts."

Last Week

Let's talk about the Iowa-USC round three game that didn't get to happen.

Agree -- but convince me more.

Cool, I am 100% convin--GOOD GRACIOUS.

He looks like a popstar, mid-song.

All of the above was written before Gonzaga crushed SC in the Elite 8... which begs the question: how many tiers below all of these teams are we? I don't really think it's that sample -- surely, some of this is matchup based -- but... is it that simple?

This Week

Also cannot believe we didn't have time to discuss this last week:

It's wrestling, so I'll be the one to say it: this is the lamest shit, man. OK, 1) What if he got hurt worse? 2) Was floored seeing the transcript of this and even more groan-y once actually watching.

"Didn't have to tell you, probably shouldn't, but I'm gonna... because TOUGHNESS."

/Luka Garza continues to bleed waterfalls from his nose

(Ed. Note: As a reminder, Bobby's opinions are his own.)

* * *

Cannot wait to get back into Carver to be around my people again.

No worries -- you do you, and I'll pay enough attention for two people. Everybody wins.

* * *

One more Iowa men's thing: read this. It summed up nearly all of my feelings on this team falling short of the Sweet 16.

Caitlin Corner

Listen, I don't know how anything works and did somehow convince myself maybe she'd leave after this year, so this was nice.

Also got the Geno sup...

...but I was more excited about the Pinoe sup.

"Is Brad Davison A Senior"

no no no no no no no no no

Also applying that to the other side of the coin:

Speaking of future player participation... are we reading into the no Connor mention from Papa Peacock?

The Ballad Of Ricky-Bobby

Each week, we check in with professional basketball writer Ricky O'Donnell for a quick exchange

Asked Ricky for a Final Four pick.

Zags over Baylor. I mostly just hope we get that game. Baylor always seemed like the one team that could actually test the Zags. I thought Gonzaga was the best team in the country from the first game of the season, but Baylor has a pretty wild resume. They would have been a No. 1 seed last year with the same team. They added a few transfers and are even better this year. I think Baylor can play them close. Otherwise, the Zags are at least 2018 Nova level, who were also my preseason pick that year [ed- FLEX]. The offense is pro-style, they're more physical defensively than you think, and everyone is so unselfish. One of the best college teams I’ve ever seen since I’ve been alive. I think they get it done.

That segues nicely into this next part...

Obligatory Michigan Section

There were a lot of ways to feel about 1-seed Michigan not getting it done against 11-seed UCLA in the Elite 8. For one, there was the "can't be mad, had a lot of chances at it" logic.

In a slow, ugly game, Michigan missed chance after chance to push past UCLA and into the Final Four. After trailing for most of the second half, the Wolverines twice took the lead, the final time on a Hunter Dickinson free throw with 4:30 to play. They'd stay within a possession for the rest of the game.

They wouldn't make another shot from the field, missing their last eight and getting only a pair of Franz Wagner free throws. Wagner had the cleanest look at a potential game-winner only to airball a wide-open three-pointer following a Michigan timeout with 19.8 seconds left. Eli Brooks tried to put back the miss on the fly with a reverse layup and left it short.

What's wild is they had two more shots at it after that last described sequence. Was not to be. It left me in a weird place. Mentally, I actually felt like I'd cleared the bad loss hurdle, but physically, I was destroyed. It reminded me of that moment in the night where you realize you've had too much to drink, but you've unfortunately also hit the point of no return and basically have to buckle up with your own body.

If you pull back and go more macro, there was definitely a "these guys played their asses off/be thankful this happened" take.

/nods understandingly

One thing we can all agree on: never bring up the football team in March again.

It's true.

<3 <3 <3

The other piece to this is, of course, the Gonzaga cloud. Suspect we'll be talking about them more at this time next week, so I'll save it.

Lastly, the fleeting nature of college hoops is what makes it crushing and beautiful. On one hand, you have Iowa losing a Naismith candidate... but there are also seven million hoopers in the transfer portal. Michigan's situation is just as scary, especially with these up in the air "everyone gets an extra season" rules we're playing with now:

PG: Mike Smith (grad transfer, senior, hasn't announced)
SG: Eli Brooks (senior, hasn't announced)
SF: Franz Wagner (sophomore, projected first round pick)
PF: Isaiah Livers (senior, projected NBA draft pick)
C: Hunter Dickinson (freshman, NBA size but not super high on boards)

Of that five, it is very possible Dickinson is the only one back. I hold out misplaced hope for a Franz return, only because his brother went for three years and a big part of his commitment was wanting the college experience (that said: paper always).

The No. 1 recruiting class in the nation is helping all of this, of course... but Zion didn't make the Final Four either, you know?

The Mini-Hybrid

Say this as way less of a Saban hater than I used to be...

...it gives me *life* how disgusted he is to mega successfully adapt to the new (read: better) reality of college football. Like, you made a decision, it completely worked, and everything is going great... but it still leaves you feeling icky against a fake standard that no longer actually matters. That is perpetual unhappiness, personified.

We gotta outscore 'em...

Kick Me
Bill Walton's Western Civilization 

Really could think of no greater compliment.

No Context College Basketball

Miss u already, HuntDick.

Wrapping It Up...

The one year I commit to conference pride...

Bobby Loesch is a weekly contributor to Go Iowa Awesome. Follow him on Twitter @bobbystompy or email to bobbyloesch [at] gmail.com.

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