Iowa facing high expectations following Luka Garza’s decision to return

The Hawkeyes will likely enter the season as one of the top-five teams in the nation.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa forward Luka Garza is introduced during a men's basketball game between Iowa and Maryland at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Friday, Jan. 10, 2020.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

With Luka Garza officially back for his senior season, the Iowa men’s basketball team is in a position that is unique for the program.

The Hawkeyes head into the 2020-21 season, whatever it is going to look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as the favorites to win the Big Ten. A likely top-five team in the preseason polls, Iowa is projected to be a legitimate title contender.

“The first thing you do is embrace it,” Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery said. “We all recognize it. It’s a challenge. It’s great to talk about it. And yes, I think we have the ability to do it. But there are a number of other teams that have the same ability, and we have to be respectful of our opponents.”

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Iowa finished the 2019-20 season with a 20-11 regular season record, 11 of those wins coming in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes were likely headed to the NCAA Tournament, but it and the Big Ten Tournament were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Garza, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, averaged 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game as a junior for the Hawkeyes last season. The Washington, D.C. native will be the national player of the year favorite as a senior after six news outlets gave him that distinction last season.

RELATED: School records are in reach for Luka Garza if he returns for senior season

“It brings a whole different dimension to our team,” Iowa guard CJ Fredrick said. “[Garza] was the most dominant player in college basketball last year. Obviously, when you bring that back, we’re going to be really excited about that.”

Garza coming back means the team has seven players with starting experience returning this season.

  • Junior Joe Wieskamp averaged 14 points per game last season and is a two-year starter.
  • Connor McCaffery led the country in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.59 last season as a redshirt sophomore.
  • Fredrick led the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (46.1%) in his freshman season.
  • Joe Toussaint is set up for another strong season after breaking out a year ago. The team’s injuries forced him into the starting lineup for chunks of his freshman season.
  • Jordan Bohannon, the program’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, and Jack Nunge, who said Sunday he is recovering well after tearing his ACL last season, are back after missing most of the 2019-20 season.

Along with those experienced starters, Patrick McCaffery will also be back, and a five-man freshmen class will add to the team’s depth.

Iowa’s offense was one of the best in the country last season. This season, it could take the No. 1 spot.

“We all trust each other,” Connor McCaffery said. “We know what everyone is good at. You know we’re going to push the ball, so we’re going to do that. We’re going to try to score quickly. If not, we have a ton of weapons in the halfcourt as well. Everybody that comes in adds another dimension to our offense.

“We have shooters. We have passers. We have low-post scoring. I think that when you have all of these weapons, it’s really hard for teams to plan defensively against you. Because if they take away one thing, something else is going to open up. And we already know that no one can guard Luka one-on-one.”

Fran McCaffery said that having a veteran team will play to Iowa’s advantage this season. According to Iowa’s 11th-year head coach, winning on the road and in close games comes easier to experienced teams.

The talent is there to match the experience, and sharing the ball shouldn’t be a problem.

“Everybody on the court is going to be able to score the ball, so it’s going to be really hard to focus on one person,” Fredrick said. “The court is going to be spread a lot more. Our shooters are going to be able to get some looks.”

Iowa has never been ranked higher than No. 7 in a preseason AP Poll. That is set to change this year.

“I think with our team, we’re all extremely motivated and mentally tough,” Connor McCaffery said. “We agree that nothing is going to be given to us just because of our preseason ranking. This is all going to be for our hard work this upcoming season. We are all extremely hungry. We have been.”

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