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Schwartz: Luka Garza Giving Us A Reason To Watch

January 9, 2020

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

As Iowa’s men’s basketball continues to take up residence in the lower third of the Big Ten – let’s hang onto our excuses until at least February – we should take a moment to pump the brakes, slow down, and rubberneck at Luka Garza.

This is not going to be a column about Garza’s work ethic, his familial ties to basketball, or what he’s overcome. Let’s keep it simple: His numbers shine. We haven’t seen this kind of production since …

Since …

Roy Marble? He’s Iowa’s greatest scorer, but he never averaged as many points per game as the 22.1 Garza currently puts up.

Rebounding? In recent memory only Reggie Evans proved more productive. Garza won’t catch him. But he’s close.

To find someone in Garza’s all around league, we have to go all the way back to 2019. Megan Gustafson. Oh, who are we kidding – he’s not in her league. Almost no one is.

But we’re talking about men’s basketball, Iowa’s less successful basketball program. Still fun, but you know, without the pressure of expectations.

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We spent last season trying to capture Gustafson in her moment, fully recognizing that athletes such as her don’t come around often. Now we’re here again – to some degree – with Iowa’s most dominant multi-tool basketball player since, who, Andre Woolridge? The mid-1990s point guard led the Big Ten in scoring and assists. Garza currently leads the Big Ten in scoring and sits second in rebounding behind Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu.

And Garza didn’t just pad his stats against the gimmes like Kennesaw State and North Florida. He put up 34 against Penn State, 23 against Syracuse, and the game that put him on the national map, 44 against Michigan on Dec. 6.

Forty in a college game against a major-conference opponent means something. Heck, in the NBA 40 means something, but it happens about once a week. You score 40 in college, you make the ESPN ticker. You lead whatever the Big Ten Network’s highlight show is called. People talk about your game not just in the days after you score 40, but for years. Unless your name is John Johnson, no one in nearly 125 years of Iowa basketball has scored more in a single game than you (Johnson scored 49 in 1970 and 46 in 1968).

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It’s hard to know what we’re going to get out of the men’s basketball team the rest of the season. On the one hand they’ve got some decent nonconference victories, at least reputationally: Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Iowa State. On the other – the more realistic hand – the Hawkeyes sit 13th in the 14-team Big Ten. They haven’t even played the first, second, third, or fourth-place team yet, and they’ve got losses to the current fifth, 10th, and 11th-place teams.

There’s time, but it’s not looking good.

Which is why Garza is becoming so important. If the Hawkeyes keep sinking, he’ll be our reason to watch. A win against Northwestern will be no sure thing, but at least there will be a chance that Garza puts up 30 and 15.

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His free-throw shooting is an issue. There’s no physical reason he should be shooting 20 percentage points worse than last season. Just imagine the numbers he’d be putting up if he could hit even just 75 percent of his attempts.

Nevertheless, we take what we can get, right? It’d be nice if the Hawkeyes could string together some wins and climb back into the Big Ten conversation, but if they can’t, at least we can watch one of the most dominant individual performances in program history.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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