No Doubt Hawkeye Teammates Believe Luka Garza is Player of the Year
Tuesday on Twitter proved something I think I already knew: Luka Garza’s Iowa teammates love and respect him.
The Associated Press released its national player of the year award on Tuesday. It went to Dayton forward Obi Toppin. And it set off a debate between Garza’s teammates (and Iowa fans) and Flyer faithful over who was the country’s best player in 2019-20.
When a Dayton fan portrayed Garza as an unexciting player, Iowa guard Jordan Bohannon responded, “Man put up a 44 piece on Michigan, that’s not exciting?”
Another Dayton guy named Grant Kelly wrote:
“Dear every Iowa fan:
Nobody on a team who loses 11 games should even be eligible to win National Player of the Year. Luke Garza is good, but Obi Toppin could play 1 v 5 all year and not lose11 times.
End of Debate”
Iowa’s Connor McCaffery responded with a series of laughing emojis and the words, “this guy.”
Kelly: “Do we have a problem, Connor?”
McCaffery: “I can’t legitimately have a problem with someone who legitimately thinks this is a good point…so no.”
In addition to pointing out that Garza’s first name is Luka, not Luke, Iowa fans fired back with this: the Big Ten was expected to get 10 teams in the NCAA, nine more than the Atlantic 10; Iowa beat seven Top 25 teams this season, while Dayton hasn’t beaten a Top 25 team since 2018; and Garza’s numbers came against teams superior to those on the Flyers’ schedule.
And that’s just a sample. As in most Twitter debates, common sense and logic often turns provincial and profane. This was no different.
But some of Garza’s Iowa teammates, current and former, had his back.
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Former Hawkeye Tyler Cook responded, “No respect to Obi, but you can’t tell me anyone had a better year than Luka. This is ridiculous to say the least.”
“That’s laughable,” CJ Fredrick tweeted.
Another former Hawkeye, Peter Jok, tweeted, “I wish Iowa played Dayton this year to see who’s really player of the year.”
While the Twitter conversations unfolded, I thought about how entertaining such a game would be: No. 3 Dayton against No. 25 Iowa in the NCAA Tournament, or a 1920-21 regular-season game.
But that won’t happen now. On Wednesday, when Toppin was also named player of the year by the United States Basketball Writers Association, he declared for the NBA Draft. He’ll be taking his 20 points and 7.5 rebounds with him to the next level. He also shot 63.3 percent from the field.
All indications are that Garza, who scored at least 20 points in the last 16 games and 23 times overall, will return to Iowa for his senior season. He averaged 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds overall as a junior, shooting 54.2 percent from the field. That included 109 3-point attempts. Garza also averaged 26.2 points in Big Ten play, the most since Purdue’s Glenn Robinson averaged 31.1 points in 1994. Garza averaged 9.8 rebounds against Big Ten competition.
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Garza and Toppin were both consensus all-Americans. Both are outstanding players. A case could be made for both to be national player of the year. Garza would have my vote, for many of the reasons mentioned earlier.
Garza, whose improved defense showed up with 1.8 blocked shots and more than six defensive rebounds per game, has already been named national player of the year by ESPN, The Sporting News, Stadium, Bleacher Report and Basketball Times.
Seth Davis, Andy Katz and Dick Vitale have also named him their player of the year.
He’s a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award and the Lute Olson Award.
He’s also a finalist for the game’s two biggest plumbs, the Naismith Award (announced April 5) and the Wooden Award (April 10).
But that won’t stop the debate, which only adds another chapter to an interesting Iowa-Dayton relationship.
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Iowa played Dayton in the championship game of the Dayton Classic on Dec. 22, 1979. Ronnie Lester, Iowa’s star point guard, injured his knee in that game and missed a significant portion of the season, though he did help the Hawkeyes reach the 1980 Final Four.
Iowa met Dayton in a first-round NIT game in 2012, Iowa’s first postseason game since 2006. The Flyers, coached by Archie Miller, were a No. 2 seed, Iowa just a No. 7 seed. But the game was played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena because Dayton Arena was hosting NCAA games. Iowa won, 84-75.
The Hawkeyes went to Dayton to play a first-round NCAA game in 2014. It was Iowa’s first NCAA appearance since 2006. The game was played on a Wednesday. McCaffery was with his team at practice Tuesday, then flew back to Iowa City. He was at University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics early Wednesday when son Patrick had surgery to remove a tumor from his thyroid.
McCaffery then flew back to Dayton for the game that night, a 78-65 overtime defeat.
“It was a day that, needless to say, was very difficult,” McCaffery said.
Two days later, the McCafferys learned the tumor was malignant. Patrick, a freshman who redshirted the 2019-20 season, is now cancer free.
On Tuesday, Patrick went to Twitter to defend Garza.
His reaction to Kelly’s tweet mentioned earlier?
“Get a load of this guy,” Patrick said.