While most of the sports world will have their eyes on college football’s conference championship games on Saturday, I, an irrational Hawkeye fan, will be tuning into the Hawkeyes’ basketball venture to the Mount Rushmore State to take on Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Now, while by all indications this is just another non-conference basketball game in the middle of December, this feels like a moment this group has been building toward since Luka Garza decided to stay on campus in Iowa City. Ranked as the No.3 team in the land, Iowa has a chance to do something they haven’t done since January of 1987… hold the No.1 ranking the AP Poll.
So, when I say this moment is huge for the Hawkeyes, I’m talking about the highest ranking in over 30 years, a moment, arguably the biggest non-conference win in program history, and proof that they belong among the nation’s elite this year. But, enough about the what-ifs and potential greatness, let’s look at how this Hawkeye team gets it done on Saturday.
The Battle of Bigs
Luka Garza leads the country in scoring at 29.2 PPG, and the Peacock is dropping three-pointers like he’s having trouble with the snap (little Scott Frost joke in there for you). An early favorite for National Player of the Year, your biggest big man can’t guard the jumper and your weak 6-foot-9 center can’t contain him on the glass. That is of course if you’re talking about playing teams like Northern Illinois, Southern, and Iowa State…
Garza faces his biggest test of the season on Saturday, as he will go toe-to-toe with Rivals’ No.36 player in the 2019 class and potential lottery pick Drew Timme. The 6-foot-10 sophomore averages just a tick over 23 a night and will present a unique blend of size and skill for Garza. I think Garza gets his, but if I were a betting man his totals (points & rebounds) are closer to the 30 mark compared to his usual 40.
It goes without saying, but if Mark Few throws a double-team at Luka Garza on Saturday, the shooters are going to have to find their stroke from beyond the arc. The Hawkeyes are shooting just below the 40 percent mark from three as a team, and the 17 made three’s against North Carolina could be a crystal ball into how these boys will step up in another big game.
Unselfish basketball has been part of the recipe for success, as the Hawkeyes’ 24 assists/game currently leads the country and has helped the Hawks to an average of 100.5 points per game as a team. Bohannon, Fredrick, and Weiskamp will have to knock down shots, and they’ll have to do it while slowing down Jalen Suggs (Rivals’ No.11 player in the 2020 class) and the rest of the high-powered Zags offense.
Obviously, the Hawkeyes have one of the most experienced starting-fives in the country, but there are some catalysts off the bench that will need to be on their A-game come Saturday…
Joe Toussaint – Joe is one of the most exciting players on this Hawkeye bench, and the sophomore guard from the Bronx can get to the basket faster than you can say In Heaven There is No Beer. Toussaint is turning the ball over just over 1.5 times per game this season, but a clean 15-20 minutes of game action from the speedy ball-handler could provide exactly what the Hawkeyes need.
Jack Nunge – Nunge has been impressive since coming back from an ACL tear that happened last season, and the redshirt sophomore has been an incredible story after suddenly losing his father early in the season. Nunge averages nearly 11 points and 6.5 boards a game off the bench, and his presence will continue to become even more important as Iowa starts playing groups like Gonzaga that can force Garza to play more high-energy minutes.
Keegan Murray – The freshman has exceeded mine and a lot of other Hawkeye basketball fans’ expectations through the first six games this season. Murray is averaging nearly five boards a game in just 15 minutes a night, but the Cedar Rapids native’s energy in the paint can be a spark at all times. Murray’s big tip-in was a turning point in the win over the Tar Heels, and another big game Saturday would be huge for this Hawkeye team.
You’ll have to wait until Saturday morning to find out… #SkoHawks
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