No. 3 Hawkeyes set for clash with No. 16 North Carolina at Carver

After three blowout victories, Iowa welcomes a 3-1 North Carolina team to Carver-Hawkeye Arena tonight.


Katie Goodale

Head Coach Fran McCaffery sits on the sidelines during the Iowa v. Western Illinois basketball game in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Iowa defeated Western Illinois with a final score of 99-58.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

Since the matchup was made official Oct. 30, anticipation has been mounting ahead of Iowa men’s basketball’s game with North Carolina Tuesday.

Now, the moment the No. 3 Hawkeyes and their fans have been waiting for has arrived.

“We’re very excited to play the [No. 16] team in the country in North Carolina,” 2019 Big Ten Player of the Year Luka Garza said. “Everybody’s really excited, and we’re pumped up. We know this is an opportunity for us to show some people what we’re about. I think it goes both ways. I think they’re looking at it like this as well. It’s an exciting game and we’re just focused on winning every single day and making sure we put our best foot forward tomorrow.”

Garza will need to be sharp tonight as he will have his hands full with the size North Carolina boasts in the frontcourt. In their last game Dec. 2, four Tar Heels towering at 6-foot-10 or taller participated – Day’Ron Sharpe, Garrison Brooks, Walker Kessler, and Armando Bacot.

Bacot and Brooks lead the Tar Heels’ group of bigs. Bacot is averaging 11 points and 7.8 rebounds per game this season, while Brooks has posted 12 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest.

“I think it’s an important game for [forward Jack Nunge] because they’re going to have two [6-foot-10 or 6-foot-11] guys on the floor most of the time,” head coach Fran McCaffery said. “I think [forwards Patrick McCaffery and Keegan Murray will be fine, and guard Connor McCaffery] will be fine. We can move him around. When you look at our top nine or our top 10 [players], basically nothing will change there.”

“I think getting Jack Nunge back and watching him assimilate into everything that we’re doing so easily, based on the incredibly difficult circumstances he faced, has really been impressive and heart-warming in a lot of ways,” Fran said. “If you just focus on the basketball side of it, he’s just a big difference-maker for us against anybody, but especially against a team that has that many bigs.”

Nunge and Garza are the only two players on Iowa’s roster that stand over 6-foot-11. Forward Josh Ogundele is 6-foot-10, but even in the Hawkeyes’ first three games that resulted in blowout victories, he only saw roughly 2.5 minutes per game. So, any playing time Ogundele may receive against North Carolina would come as a rapid change to Iowa’s rotation.

Patrick and Murray only stand at about 6-foot-8 or 6-foot-9.

RELATED: Garza garners lofty comparisons after win over Western Illinois

Despite a decided size advantage, Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams isn’t taking anything for granted tonight.

“I’ve probably never coached against a team [that] can say [it] has seven starters returning because they had [Bohannon], who played the first ten games starting and [redshirted], and [Nunge who played a few games and got hurt],” Williams said.

Williams also noted that the Tar Heels’ size won’t stop Garza by default.

“[Garza’s] really good, that’s the first thought” Williams said. “He’s a guy that’s gotten better and better and better every year. I think he’s grown some since he’s got to the college level. It’ll be a load for our young big guys to try to guard a big guy who’s really skilled, who’s very well-experienced in playing and doing those kind of things. Fran does a great job with his team, they’ve got a lot of weapons, but there’s no question that Garza, you’ve got to try to cut down his percentage first.”

Frontcourt matchups won’t be the only things that determine the outcome of tonight’s game. Williams’ bunch has also enjoyed solid backcourt play this season from guards R.J. Davis and Leaky Black. Davis is a freshman and he leads North Carolina in scoring, pouring in 12.3 points per contest.

“R.J. is my friend, he’s my buddy,” Iowa point guard Joe Touissaint said. “I knew him for a long time [in high school in New York]. He went to [Archbishop Stepanic high school] and I went to Cardinal Hayes [high school]. I believe we beat them more times [while I was there], but since I left they beat us every time. R.J. is very crafty, he can shoot the ball, scoring mentality. He’s very smooth, he’s very crisp with his handles, very creative. He’s a skilled player, very skilled player.”

With guards like Toussaint, Joe Wieskamp, Jordan Bohannon, and C.J. Fredrick, at the Hawkeyes’ disposal, Williams isn’t underestimating what Iowa’s backcourt brings to the game either.

“We’ll try to get out on the shooters,” Williams said. “[Iowa] is like 39 percent from the 3-point line. . . Joe [Wieskamp’s] been there a while. Joe does a great job. He’s very selective. He’s shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line. C.J. Fredrick’s shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line.”

Tonight’s game is scheduled to tipoff at 6:35 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and is part of the 2020 Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

“These big time games early on, they help you to see where you’re at,” Frederick said. “We have a great opportunity tomorrow night to go out there and really show what we can do. I think we’re all really excited for the opportunity.”