Evaluating Keegan Murray, E.J. Liddell, and Malaki Branham

February 19th, 2022

By Alan Lu

Today, I decided to take the time to watch Keegan Murray and Iowa face off against E.J. Liddell and Ohio State in a tough, competitive Big Ten basketball game.  It was a hard-fought match that went back and forth, and both of the players played well, but Murray and Iowa were able to hold off Ohio State to get a double-digit victory on the road, and Iowa especially defended well down the stretch.  Here are my thoughts on how Murray, Liddell, and Malaki Branham fared, as well as how they may currently stack up as prospects for the NBA.

Iowa’s 6-8 sophomore forward, Keegan Murray turned in a dominant showing in his team’s double-digit win over Ohio State.
Paul Vernon/Associated Press, via KIMT)

Keegan Murray played very well in this game, as he thrived as an all-around performer in his team’s double-digit win over Ohio State.  He is an athletic, energetic combo guard that primarily excelled as a scorer and defender in this game.  He shot the ball well and he made sound plays on both ends of the floor to help his team get the victory.

Murray thrived at scoring on hustle plays.  He would often score on quick put backs off of offensive rebounds, and he also managed to score on a strong put back dunk.  He also ran in to score as a trailer in transition while getting an extra free throw another time.  He also made a swift backdoor cut and caught a lob pass to score on an alley-oop dunk.  Murray was very active in moving off the ball, and he would tend to make his opponents pay for their inattentiveness, even in the slightest bit.

He also shot the ball fairly well.  Murray was able to run off a ball screen to make a quick three off of a pin-down.  He also made a smooth, spot-up three quickly off the catch another time.  He missed on a couple of pull-up, mid-range jumpers, but Murray showed that he can move off the ball and also comfortably score on spot-up threes off the catch.

He also did a good job of scoring off the dribble.  Murray can use either hand to score when driving the ball to the hoop.  He was able to go to his left to score on an off-balanced jumper in transition.  He also drove to his right and evaded a swipe, as he then accelerated and scored on a thunderous dunk over an opponent.  He also showed a solid ability to draw fouls when taking it hard to the rim on isolation plays.  He did miss awkwardly in traffic on a drive early on, but Murray generally showed good patience, scoring touch, and athleticism to consistently score on strong drives to the basket.

He also did an adequate job of scoring in the post.  Murray was open around the basket, and he ran in to get a loose ball, which enabled him to score on a powerful, two-handed dunk.  On the downside, he missed on a fadeaway, jump hook from the post another time.  Also, Murray passed the ball well.  He did a good job of patiently passing out of the post to find open shooters to notch assists.

Also, Murray was able to get his fair share of rebounds in this game.  He showed a penchant for leaping up to get offensive rebounds, and he would often score afterwards to provide his team with plenty of second chance points.  He didn’t get nearly as many defensive boards though, but he and his team did a great job of getting offensive rebounds and scoring off of them.  Murray also played satisfactory defense in this game.  He did a good job of blocking shots in the paint due to possessing good athleticism and timing.  He also would rotate to double in the post, which helped him force a passing turnover, and he also contested a shot to force a miss another time.  He also rotated on a drive to help force a shot clock violation, and his length, athleticism, and activity would make it difficult for his opponents to get their passes through.  Sometimes though, he would tend to commit unnecessary reach-in fouls around the basket.  Other times, he would try to front his man when defending in the post, but he would end up allowing easy catches and scores around the basket.

In general, Keegan Murray had a strong showing, and he ended up scoring 24 points in his team’s win over Ohio State.  Keegan Murray has been playing very well recently, and this was a superb, all-around performance that he turned in to help his team get the victory.  He has been one of the best players in college basketball this season.  He’ll need to continue to show that he can continue to shoot the ball well from the outside and to continue to defend as well as he did in this game, but with the skills that he showed in this match against Ohio State, Keegan Murray will likely be a lock to go in the lottery in the 2022 draft.

Ohio State’s senior forward, E.J. Liddell turned in a strong showing in his team’s tough loss to Iowa.
Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC)

E.J. Liddell also played fairly well in his team’s loss to Iowa.  He was relied upon quite often as a scorer in the post, and he also was able to make a string of impressive defensive plays, as he ended up blocking five shots throughout the contest.  On the other hand, he missed more free throws than he should have, he had some trouble making decisions or passing out of double teams in the post.  While he mostly defended well, especially in the first half, there were times where he struggled to defend out on the perimeter late in this match.

Liddell showed a satisfactory ability to score in the post.  He would often get deep position down low, and he would make strong moves to score at the rim.  He also used a pump fake to score early on, and he also utilized a hop step to score on a thunderous dunk another time.  He also managed to score on a turnaround, fadeaway jumper.  He has good strength as well as the shooting touch and the footwork to be a reliable low post scorer.  However, sometimes he would force the issue too much, as he did so especially late in this game when his team was trailing, and he would sometimes take contested, off-balanced jumpers that would lead to misses.

He also showed that he can draw free throws when driving the ball to the hoop, and he also drew free throws on a strong put back.  Another time when he drove off of a screen, he ended up having his shot blocked.  He also didn’t do a good job of making his free throws in this game.  On the plus side, Liddell was able to utilize a jab step to make a smooth three-point shot.  He also managed to score on a quick, mid-range floater another time after getting a running start to get the ball.  However, Liddell had trouble consistently scoring from the mid-range, as he tended to take too many fadeaway, mid-range jumpers, and he also didn’t take nearly enough threes in this game.

Also, Liddell was fairly turnover prone on offense.  For the positives, he is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he can throw sharp, interior passes to set up scores for his teammates.  He can find teammates on the move, and he also managed to pass out of a double team in the post once.  He also would set solid screens to help his teammates score on drives to the hoop.  However, he was called for setting a moving screen once.  When doubled in the post another time, he didn’t read the play quickly enough and he allowed his defenders to swarm him, and he ended up throwing a fadeaway jump pass that sailed out of bounds.  Other times, he would mishandle the ball, and he ended up losing the ball once later on.

Plus, he showed a solid ability to rebound the basketball.  Liddell would chase down balls to get multiple boards on both ends of the floor, and sometimes he would push the ball up the floor off defensive rebounds.  Sometimes though, it would seem as if he and his team were not getting enough defensive rebounds, and they allowed Iowa to get too many offensive rebounds and extra possessions to score.

Liddell also played satisfactory defense in this game.  He did a tremendous job of blocking shots, and he often would hustle to make aggressive chase down blocks on drives to help his team protect the paint.  He also showed some ability to stay with opposing ball handlers when defending out on the perimeter, and his ability to block and challenge shots makes him a stout interior defender. 

He also would poke balls away from his opponents to get steals and deflections.  He also was able to deflect a pass, and he also dove on the floor to try to get a loose ball due to possessing good instincts and motor.  He also would contest jumpers to help his team force misses.  Sometimes though, he would be caught ball watching, which would lead him to wander too far off his man, or not pick up a man when defending in transition, which would lead his team to give up open shots.  Other times, he would commit unnecessary reach-in fouls.  He also would sometimes get beat off the dribble, and he also would sometimes struggle to defend in screen situations, as sometimes he would take bad angles, and other times there would be a lack of effective communication between him and his teammates.

In summary, E.J. Liddell put forth a solid performance in this game.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, and he showed a lot of promise as a defender for the NBA level.  Still, he will need to trust his outside shot more and be a little more decisive in making plays in the half court.  He is currently having a great season this year, and he currently projects to go in the mid to late first round range of the 2022 draft.

Ohio State’s Malaki Branham also played well in his team’s loss to Iowa.
Paul Vernon/Associated Press)

Ohio State’s 6-5 freshman guard, Malaki Branham had a solid showing in his team’s tough loss to Iowa.  He is an athletic scorer that did a terrific job of making shots early and often, especially in the first half, and he is a scoring swingman that can score in bunches and put up points in a hurry.

Branham did a good job of scoring off the dribble.  He in particular excelled at driving off screens to get to the hoop to score around the basket.  He showed good patience in doing so, and he would then usually get a clear path to the lane to score afterwards.  He also managed to score on a quick open layup on an aggressive drive in transition.  He also drove to the post to score on a smooth, fadeaway jumper.  He also tried to drive from the baseline to score off of an offensive rebound, but missed wildly due to rushing.

He also flashed the ability to knock down jumpers.  Branham was able to make a quick, open corner three off the catch.  He would’ve scored on a pull-up, baseline mid-range jumper if he had gotten the continuation after drawing a non-shooting foul on a left-handed drive.  However, he didn’t take many threes in this game, and he really struggled to make pull-up, mid-range jumpers, and he tended to take tough, contested shots that would also sometimes be off-balanced.

Also, he generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  Branham was able to run in to score on a tip-in, and he also scored on a put back another time.  On the other hand, he was a bit turnover prone in this game.  Branham would sometimes throw inaccurate, off-target passes that would end up getting intercepted.  He wasn’t accurate with many of his passes, but he was able to make a drive and kick pass to find an open shooter once.

Plus, Branham is a very good rebounding guard, and he would often chase down balls to get boards on both ends of the floor.  He has a very good motor, and he would hustle to go get his team rebounds.  Sometimes, he would bring the ball up after getting defensive boards for his team.  Defensively, he was perhaps above average.  Branham is an active help defender that will help his team force turnovers and get steals.  He was able to run in to take a ball away off of a drive to get a steal, and he also jumped on a loose ball that was poked away to get another.  He also stayed with an opponent that ran off of a pindown to force his man to miss a corner three another time.  On the downside, sometimes he would struggle to stay in front of his man as he can occasionally be too aggressive on his closeouts and he may not always move his feet well, which would lead him to get beat off the dribble and then commit fouls as a result.  Another time, he over-helped in the paint and was late to get back to his man, which led him to give up a three-point basket to an opponent.

Overall, Malaki Branham is an athletic, energetic swingman that can score the basketball and put the ball in the hoop.  He will need to trust his three-point shot more and be a more disciplined defender in games, but his athleticism and ability to score could make him an intriguing option for NBA teams to consider in the second round range of the 2022 draft.

Kris Murray is an athletic, 6-8 sophomore forward that is the twin brother of Keegan Murray.  Though Kris Murray struggled to shoot or score consistently, he was able to make a quick, open three-point shot. Plus, he also thrived as a scorer in transition.  He also used a hop step move to score on a powerful, breakaway dunk. 

He also defended well, and he was able to intercept an entry pass to get a steal for his team.  Overall, Murray is an athletic, energetic combo forward that was able to make some highlight reel-worthy plays for his team down the stretch, and he will likely be a key player for his team in the postseason, as his athleticism, scoring, and defensive skills could help them in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Jordan Bohannon also played very well for his team in this game.  He consistently made clutch plays in the second half, and he is a savvy, shooting combo guard that just made smart plays throughout the match.  Bohannon was able to make a pair of threes, and he also ran off of a pindown to knock one down off the catch.  He also used a crafty pump fake to draw three free throws on a three-point shot.  Plus, he also managed to score on a running, mid-range floater another time. He also passed and defended well.  Bohannon was able to get the ball ahead to a teammate to set up a score for him on the break.  He also rotated to poke a ball away from a high post player and jumped on another loose ball to get steals for his team.  Overall, Bohannon is a smart, skilled combo guard that can shoot the basketball, and he just showed a knack for making the winning plays on the floor.  Though he may not be an overwhelming athlete, he is a tough, gritty playmaker that just finds ways to get the job done.  He has been a productive player at the collegiate level, and he could end up having a lengthy playing career in professional basketball.

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