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The meatiest men's college basketball story in the Big Ten and America Thursday night is No. 9 Iowa against No. 3 Michigan.
The appetizer in Ann Arbor won't be a mere carrot stick. It's size against size, talent against talent, a big-time player from the Washington, D.C., area against a big-time player from the Washington, D.C., area.
It's Everybody's All-American, 6-foot-11, 265-pound Hawkeye senior center Luka Garza against Everybody's Freshman All-American, 7-1, 255-pound Hunter Dickinson of the Wolverines.
They shared space working on their games in the metro Washington area during the offseason, practicing together. They shared space in the same Big Ten news release Monday.
Garza got his third Big Ten Player of the Week award of the season and fifth of his career, and Dickinson was named the league's Freshman of the Week for the seventh time.
'Playing against Luka, getting a feel for the physicality of the Big Ten is something that was helpful for me,” Dickinson told Michigan 247Sports.com reporter Zach Shaw last November. 'I was able to go against him every day or a couple times a week in those practices, so it really helped me kind of like improve at a rapid pace.”
For Garza, it was a chance to practice against a highly skilled player who was 2 inches taller than him. They have known each other for years. Dickinson practiced with Garza's Team Takeover AAU team when Garza was a high school junior and Dickinson a middle-schooler.
'It's really impressive to see what he's done so far,” Garza said Tuesday.
'He definitely knows where my game is. ... I think we both know each other's games pretty well.”
Dickinson is a significant reason the first-place Wolverines are 11-1 in the Big Ten and 16-1 overall. He leads them with 15 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He had 22 and nine in Michigan's 92-87 win at No. 4 Ohio State Sunday, getting 16 points after halftime.
'He's one of the best centers in the country,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said.
'He's good in the low post. He's a good passing big man. He runs well. He's physical.”
Now Dickinson will get his first and perhaps only chance to match skills in college with Garza, the nation's leading scorer at 24.7 points per game and favorite to be National Player of the Year.
The record point total for a visiting player in Crisler Center's 53-year history? That would be Garza's career-high 44 last season in Iowa's 103-91 loss to the Wolverines. Doing something remotely similar against Dickinson? That's a tall order.
Garza has been double-teamed almost all of the Big Ten season. Big Ten defenses started doing the same to Dickinson several games ago. Ohio State didn't double him as much Sunday, and the player took advantage.
'I was pretty happy,” Dickinson said. 'Usually I don't get those opportunities too much. It's kind of fun for me to be able to go one-and-one with my opponent. I get to show everything that Coach (Juwan) Howard has taught me.”
'He's been playing at a very high level of basketball for a while now,” said Garza.
'He's mature beyond his years.”
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