Hawkeye basketball heads to the bright lights

Iowa takes on Oregon in Madison Square Garden for the 2K Empire Classic.


Chris Kalous

Iowa’s Luka Garza shoots a jumper at the beginning of the first half during the Iowa Vs. Green Bay basketball game. The Hawkeyes won 93-83 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Nov. 11.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

Iowa basketball is only two games into the season, and its first real test looms already — 8:15 p.m. today, when the Hawkeyes clash with the No. 13 Oregon Ducks in the 2K Empire Classic.

After facing Mizzou-KC and Green Bay, Oregon presents Iowa with its biggest challenge so far, if not for the entire nonconference schedule.

“I think you have some decisions to make when you schedule a tournament like this,” said head coach Fran McCaffery. “We want to take our team to The Garden, we want to play Oregon, Syracuse, UConn; we want to be on that stage. We want to challenge our team against that quality in November. So we’ll learn a lot about ourselves as we get ready for Big Ten play, which as you know, is right around the corner now.”

Oregon will be without freshman phenom Louis King, a five-star forward, who tore his meniscus in January. But the Ducks’ freshman talent doesn’t stop there.

Enter Bol Bol. He’s the son of Manute Bol, who, standing 7-7, played in the NBA for 12 seasons. While his dad was known for blocking shots into the stands, Bol Bol does a little bit of everything.

The 7-2 center has deadly offensive game for someone in his position — he possesses the handles of a guard, solid shooting ability, and can also score in the paint with ease. Through Oregon’s first two games, Bol averages 17.5 points, 12 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game while shooting 46.4 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep.

“I’ve always been the type of guy who gets excited with those matchups,” Hawkeye post Luka Garza said. “In high school, I played against DeAndre Ayton, Wendell Carter, I played every name you see in the NBA now. I’m ready for that. I’ve always been a guy to take on those challenges. I love playing against the best … [Bol] is a great player. I’ve seen him throughout high school, seen him at camps when we were younger, and he’s a tremendous player.”

McCaffery will have a tough decision to make come game time on who will guard the Duck’s mismatch, but he said during his Tuesday teleconference that the Hawkeyes won’t isolate a single defender to try to cover the do-it-all center.

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The Hawkeyes will definitely have their hands full, because Oregon is potent from all over the court. Overall, the Ducks shoot the ball well, especially from 3-point range. Granted, it’s just two games into the season, but Oregon is shooting 43.8 percent from downtown.

For Iowa, the Hawkeyes’ best bet is to feed the post.

In Iowa’s win over Green Bay on Nov. 11, a heavy dose of post offense propelled the Black and Gold to victory. Garza and fellow forward Tyler Cook each scored 17 points, and both did their damage down low.

Garza’s output remained consistent throughout the game, but Cook’s second-half explosion led the charge; he scored 14 of his points in half No. 2 once Iowa made it a priority to feed the post.

As a result, the Hawkeyes shot 45 free throws in the win. Combined with the season-opener against Mizzou-KC, Iowa has shot 83 times at the stripe.

“[We’re] taking advantage of how the defense plays us,” Cook said. “[We] stay aggressive, drive the ball inside, feed it inside … teams tend to foul us. We get in the bonus, and we try to take advantage of that.”

After Iowa takes on Oregon, the Hawkeyes will finish the 2K Classic with a matchup against either Syracuse or Connecticut on Friday. That game will be at 3:30 or 5:45 p.m.

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