Can Luka Garza carry the Hawkeyes to a national championship?
If you haven’t had a chance to watch Luka Garza play this year, you’re in for a treat. He’s one of the best individual players in the field this year and might be the Naismith College Player of the Year.
Garza averaged 23.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game this year and was one of two unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selections (Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu was the other).
If one player can get hot and carry his team to the Final Four, Garza is the guy. And he’ll need to be for Iowa to get out of their region, where undefeated Gonzaga is the top seed.
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More than Garza
The Hawkeyes aren’t a one-man band, however. Iowa average 83.8 points per game this year, which ranked sixth in the nation. Only two teams on the one or two line in the bracket averaged more per game: Gonzaga (92.1) and Baylor (84.4).
Joe Wieskamp averaged 14.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and one steal per game. He was also second-team All-Big Ten. Jordan Bohannon averaged 10.9 points and 4.5 assists per game as well.
What’s perhaps most important for Iowa is those three key players are all upperclassmen. Bohannon is a redshirt senior, Garza is a senior and Wieskamp is a junior.
Keegan Murray was named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team as well, so it isn’t exclusively the old guys getting it done for Iowa. But in a field filled with young guns, Iowa will rely on veteran leadership to make a deep run.
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Iowa comes into the tournament battle-tested. The Big Ten was the best and deepest conference in the country this year, and is represented as such with two top seeds and two number two seeds as well.
In their non-conference schedule, Iowa impressed with a 13-point win against North Carolina early in the season. They put up 88 against Gonzaga on a neutral court in an 11-point loss; only one team (Kansas – 90) scored more than Iowa’s 88 against Gonzaga this year.
Inside the Big Ten, Iowa held their own against the best.
In early January they went into Maryland and won by 22 and beat Wisconsin in Madison by 14. One of their more impressive wins was a 30-point beating of Michigan State in East Lansing.
The game everyone will point to is their 16-point victory at Ohio State at the end of January.
Iowa should benefit from the depth and strength of the Big Ten. But they’ll need to fire on every cylinder – and Garza will need to be an alpha – for them to get past Gonzaga.
But the Hawkeyes have a shot to get through Gonzaga and make a deep run into the tournament.
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