Iowa Men's Basketball

Iowa men's basketball is so much better when Luka Garza gets scoring help

Offensive balance has been Hawkeyes' calling card in their 2 best wins

Northwestern guard Ty Berry (3) reacts after being called for fouling Iowa Hawkeyes guard CJ Fredrick (5) during the Haw
Northwestern guard Ty Berry (3) reacts after being called for fouling Iowa Hawkeyes guard CJ Fredrick (5) during the Hawkeyes’ 87-72 men’s basketball win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Tuesday night. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Some observations/factoids about the Iowa men’s basketball team and the Big Ten itself between the Hawkeyes’ 87-72 win over No. 19 Northwestern Tuesday and their game at No. 14 Rutgers Saturday:

1. Iowa’s two wins over ranked teams this season are the only two games in which Luka Garza wasn’t the Hawkeyes’ leading scorer.

Garza’s 27.7 points per game tops everyone men’s college basketball, but his only two games of less than 20 points were Iowa’s 93-80 win over North Carolina on Dec. 8 and Tuesday’s game.

In fact, he was the fourth-leading scorer against the Tar Heels, and his 18 points against Northwestern was third to Jordan Bohannon’s 24 and CJ Fredrick’s 19.

Garza is the go-to, and it would be nuts if he weren’t. But this team needs its guards to score.

2. Fredrick has 42 points over his last two games, and it’s become even clearer lately that he simply is a very skilled player.

His 3-point shooting has been remarkably and consistently good over his season and 10 games. He is 22 of 40 this season for 55 percent, and 69 of 142 in his career for 48.6 percent.

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Since 1992-93, the NCAA Division I career leader in 3-point percentage is Stephen Sir of San Diego State and Northern Arizona, who made 323 of 689 for 46.9 percent.

Fredrick, however, isn’t just a shooter. In fact, his team has wanted him to shoot more. The shots he takes are almost always good ones.

“I would like him to be more offensively oriented, but he’s not that kind of guy,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Monday. “He’s not hunting shots, he’s making plays. ... That’s who he is, he makes winning plays. That’s why he shoots such an incredible percentage.

“He works hard at the defensive end. He’s very active. So he’s a two-way guy that does what his team needs.

“I’m comfortable with him taking five or 10 more shots a game with the way he shoots the ball. I’m OK with him hunting shots at times, and I’ve encouraged him to do that and I think he’s gotten better.

“The bottom line is he has always been that way. He was that way in high school. He is incredibly efficient and really understands the game and plays it the right way.

Fredrick has averaged 35.7 minutes over the last three games, which tells you where he stands right now.

3. Keegan Murray continues to be a revelation.

It was hard to envision any of Iowa’s five first-year freshmen making a big impact this season. The team had a veteran lineup that appeared to hard to crack.

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Forward Keegan Murray has cracked it. He played 21 minutes against Northwestern, scoring nine points and making a lot of right moves at both ends of the floor. He and fellow non-starters Patrick McCaffery, Jack Nunge and Joe Toussaint joined Fredrick for a 9-0 first-half run in under two minutes that turned an 18-17 deficit into a 26-18 Iowa lead.

Within the last week, both Garza and Jordan Bohannon have compared Murray to former Hawkeye forward Nicholas Baer, who recently rejoined the program as a graduate assistant.

“I think they’re different players,” McCaffery said. “I think when people make that comparison is it’s both of their energy level. They both play with great energy and both impact the game a variety of ways, especially on the offensive glass.

“But Keegan has a chance to be really special, like Nicholas was, so I think let’s let him develop. I think it really begins with the energy level in terms of comparison.”

4. It’s Dec. 30 and only one team has an unbeaten Big Ten record.

That’s Michigan, which is 2-0 and has played Penn State and Nebraska, which I would rank as the 13th- and 14th-best teams in the conference, and not necessarily in that order.

Nine league teams are ranked, although Michigan State would get bounced from the Top 25 were the vote taken today.

Even with no fans in the arenas, road wins matter. Maryland’s win at Wisconsin Monday matters. Northwestern’s win at Indiana last week mattered. So did Wisconsin’s victory at Michigan State on Christmas.

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Iowa has protected its home court against Purdue and Northwestern, and an agonizing overtime loss at Minnesota. The Hawkeyes need to collect several road wins to vie for the league championship. They start 2021 by playing at Rutgers and Maryland.

Split those two, and you’re OK. Win both, you’re flying high. Lose both? It’s not curtains, but a 2-3 mark at the league’s quarter pole is a tough way to pursue a title.

Comments: (319) 398-8440; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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