Iowa Men's Basketball

Recap of 2019-20 Iowa men's basketball season: Fun

Surprising results and emergence of Luka Garza made Hawkeyes enjoyable to watch

Iowa men's basketball players celebrate their 90-83 win over Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 17. (Rebecca F. Mi
Iowa men's basketball players celebrate their 90-83 win over Michigan at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Jan. 17. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

Looking ahead typically is the logical thing to do on NCAA men’s basketball Selection Sunday, but all we’ve got left is recapping the season and looking ahead to the next one.

Que sera, sera. Here’s the condensed version of the look-ahead for the Iowa Hawkeyes: Let’s wait to see who will be on Iowa’s team. College basketball rosters that aren’t fluid in the spring are almost as hard to find as Purell at the local pharmacy.

I believe the postseason would have been full of very real possibilities for the Hawkeyes. Sure, they might have flamed out immediately in the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Remember, they were only 2-point favorites to beat 15-16 Minnesota in their scheduled Big Ten second-round game Thursday.

However, we’ll always wonder if the Hawkeyes would have caught fire on neutral courts. If they had kept the No. 6 NCAA tournament seed bracketologists were giving them before the season was halted, I didn’t see any No. 11 seed-type upsetting them — not that it couldn’t have happened — and I didn’t see a No. 3 seed-type like Seton Hall or Villanova or Duke that Iowa couldn’t battle to the wire.

If the Hawkeyes had gotten past the first weekend for the first time since 1999, anything would have been possible in this up-for-grabs season.

We’ll never know, three words so many teams and individuals at so many levels of so many sports are saying right now. To use three more words, whatcha gonna do?

There are All-America and National Player of the Year awards that will still be determined, so that will give us and Iowa something to talk about.

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Obviously, Luka Garza will be the Hawkeyes’ first Associated Press first-team All-American since 1952. A litany of his statistical achievements would fill one of our sports sections, which may not be a bad idea given the lack of actual sports that will be occurring for a while.

The junior center averaged 23.9 points per game, the most by a Hawkeye since 1971. His 44 points at Michigan in December were the most by a Hawkeye since 1970. He scored at least 20 in 16 straight Big Ten games, the first time anyone had done that since Ohio State’s Dennis Hopson in 1987.

No true Big Ten center in the last half-century matched Garza’s 26.2-point average in league games. It got to the point where Garza scoring 25 simply wasn’t news. Last season, Iowa players reached 25 points just five times, and no one topped 26. Which is common for nearly all teams.

In terms of moments that stood out this season, you can flash all the way back to Nov. 11. Iowa hosted DePaul in the Hawkeyes’ second game of the season and got crushed, 93-78. Iowa fell behind 13-0 and trailed 53-30 at halftime. The Blue Demons blew the Hawkeyes’ doors off with their quickness.

“It’s going to be a long season,” or words to that effect, were heard in Carver-Hawkeye Arena as the crowd of 9,961 trudged up the stairs to the exits.

It wasn’t nearly long enough, as it turned out. The crowds, by the way, got larger and happier as the season went along.

Fran McCaffery used an 11-player rotation in that DePaul game, with all 11 playing at least 10 minutes. Nothing clicked. Garza had 14 points in 25 minutes and wasn’t yet the focal point of the offense.

On Dec. 23, Iowa made the first of 10 appearances in the AP Top 25. That was when it was down to an eight-man rotation, with starting forward Jack Nunge, starting guard Jordan Bohannon, and reserve forward Patrick McCaffery done for the season with injury, surgery and health issues, respectively.

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There’s little doubt all of the three could have helped in the 2020 portion of the schedule, but the tighter rotation gave the eight players in it a chance to, in the words of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, know their roles.

Garza, meanwhile, showed he could play 35, 38, even 40 pounding minutes per game and thrive, which is just as unusual for a college center as pouring in 20 points time after time.

The Hawkeyes went 11-9 in the Big Ten, something that barely seemed possible after that DePaul game. They beat seven ranked teams, more than any other team in the country.

Iowa had a few duds. Every Big Ten team did. There were far more happier games, though. The Hawkeyes came from 12 points down with 7:13 left to beat Wisconsin at home, and rallied from eight behind with 5:25 left to prevail at Minnesota.

Even a couple of their losses, Penn State in Philadelphia and Illinois in Champaign, were ferocious, exciting games.

They never lost more than two in a row, but picked off five straight Big Ten wins at one point. Two of the conquered in that run were eventual league co-champs Maryland and Wisconsin, and two others were ranked Michigan and ranked Rutgers.

Iowa has had a pair of 12-6 Big Ten seasons under Fran McCaffery. His 10th Hawkeyes team, though, was his most-surprising and most-entertaining.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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