Unlike his first three performances on a college basketball court this season, Luka Garza wasn’t convincing for a moment on Monday.
“We treat every game the same,” the Iowa center said early in his responses during a Zoom conference with the media.
The contradiction came in his next breath.
“Everybody’s really excited,” Garza said about the Hawkeyes’ game against North Carolina Tuesday night at 6:35 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. “We’re pumped up. We know this is an opportunity for us to show some people what we’re about.
“And I think it goes both ways. I think they’re looking at it like this as well.”
Garza’s teammates didn’t pretend their previous three games — routs of North Carolina Central, Southern University and Western Illinois — were as meaningful as this ACC/Big Ten Challenge game in front of them.
“I’m extremely excited,” said Iowa guard CJ Fredrick. “Like Coach says, you sign up to play these kinds of games and you sign up to play these kinds of players.”
“I’m excited,” said teammate Joe Toussaint. “I feel like the whole team’s excited.”
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Boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer could have been put to use for this one.
In one corner, the team that has won three national championships under coach Roy Williams, the blue bloods in powder blue, the 16th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels!
In the other corner, the challenger and newcomer to the stratosphere of the men’s college basketball rankings, the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes!
For the dozens in attendance and the hundreds of thousands watching around the country on ESPN, ladies and gentlemen, let’s get ready to rumble!
It’s been a while since a game at Carver was as worthy of a bombastic introduction by Buffer. Never mind that the Tar Heels (3-1) are coming off a 69-67 loss to Texas in the final of the Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C., or that they were they were 14-19 last season for their first losing year in Roy Williams’ 17 as their coach.
This is North Carolina. It has work to do to return to that aforementioned stratosphere it has called home as much as any program in America, but it does have the 2020 Gatorade Players of the Year from New York, Georgia and Missouri in their rotation this season. Included are freshman starting guards R.J. Davis and Caleb Love.
So they’re young, but they’re also gifted. And big. Four players in Williams’ rotation range from 6-foot-10 to 7-1.
However, a key Heel post player has an ankle problem. Williams said Garrison Brooks, a 6-10 senior who averages 12.3 points and 8.5 rebounds, hadn’t been cleared to do everything in practice Monday. Brooks sprained an ankle in the Texas game.
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“We would expect him to play,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “If he doesn’t play, they have a lot of ways they can go, obviously.
“I think any time you play against a Roy Williams-coached team, they’re going to play hard, they’re going to defend, they’re going to rebound, they’re going to compete.”
Williams’ summation of the Hawkeyes Monday was less wordy, but just as flattering.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” Williams said. “They’re really freaking good.”
Brooks was the ACC’s Preseason Player of the Year. North Carolina could use Brooks to help contend with Garza, the nation’s leading scorer at 34.0 points per game on 76 percent (38-of-50) field goal shooting.
Brooks and Garza are the ACC and Big Ten Preseason Players of the Year, respectively.
“Garza, you’ve got to try to cut down his percentage first,” Williams said.
“He is the real deal.”
Garza probably won’t match the 41- or 35-point efforts he had in the last two games. This would seem to be a game his teammates will need to take a bigger share of the offensive load.
“These big-time games early on really help you to see where you’re at,” Fredrick said. “We have a great opportunity tomorrow night to show what we really can do. And I think we’re all really excited for the opportunity.”
Not every game is the same. The time has arrived for the Hawkeyes to face a basketball blue blood. Let’s get ready to rumble.
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