IOWA CITY — Many tourists in New York are seen looking up at the skyscrapers.
That will be the Iowa men’s basketball team Thursday, except the Hawkeyes will be looking up at Oregon freshman Bol Bol instead.
Nothing the Hawkeyes faced in their first two games was a preparation for playing against Bol Thursday (8:15 p.m. CT, ESPN2) in the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden. The 7-foot-2, 235-pounder is a shot-blocker like his father, 10-year NBA veteran Manute Bol.
However, young Bol has what his father didn’t, an offensive skill set. Manute Bol led the NBA in blocks twice, but his career averages were 2.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. Bol Bol is projected as a top-10 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft after being in the skyline of the high school recruiting rankings the last couple years.
He totaled 35 points and 24 rebounds in the 16th-ranked Ducks’ first two games, an 84-57 win over Portland State and an 81-47 cruise over Eastern Washington. And, he blocked seven shots.
Bol won’t be a stranger to the 2-0 Hawkeyes, however.
“I’ve played with and against Bol Bol when I was at L.A. (at the Elite Nike Basketball Academy) this summer,” Iowa forward Tyler Cook said. “He’s talented and he’s good. The fact he’s 7-3, he’s skilled. Along with the rest of their team, too.”
The Hawkeyes’ biggest player, 6-11 Luka Garza, was at the 2016 National Basketball Players Association Top 100 Camp in Charlottesville, Va., as a late addition.
“I think I played against Bol,” Garza said.
“I’ve seen him throughout high school, being at camps when we were younger. He’s a tremendous player.”
Garza seldom seems short, but he’ll be spotting Bol 3 inches Thursday. So be it, he says.
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“I’ve always been the type of guy excited for those matchups,” said Garza. “I played with (current NBA players) Deandre Ayton, Wendell Carter ... I’m ready for that. I love playing against the best.
“I don’t shy away from that.”
Other Hawkeye notes
— After Iowa’s 93-82 win over Green Bay Sunday, junior Hawkeye guard Jordan Bohannon admitted it was hard to stay upbeat last season as his team proceeded to a 14-19 season. No surprise, that, but players seldom concede as much.
“I’ve been trying to stay positive this year,” Bohannon said, “especially these past two games, trying to stay optimistic on the court, trying to keep everyone together as much as possible this year.
“Someone gets down, I’m going to hold myself accountable to make sure they’re OK on the next possession.
“I think that was a lot harder (in 2017-18) because of the kind of season we had. When you have a season where you’re losing 19 games, you don’t really have a lot to stay positive about, the amount of criticism you’re getting.”
— Statistics aren’t overly meaningful through just two games, particularly home games over teams from smaller conferences. But here’s one I found interesting:
Plus/minus numbers are now part of box scores at Iowa home games. Simply, it’s how many points your team scores and allows while you’re in the game.
Through two games, Iowa’s leaders are reserves. Nicholas Baer is plus-30, Connor McCaffery plus-28. Starters Tyler Cook and Joe Wieskamp are plus-18. Starter Isaiah Moss is minus-7.
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Moss didn’t play down the stretch in the Hawkeyes’ game Sunday. He is averaging 3.0 points and 16 minutes after averaging 11.1 and 24.2 last season.
“He was close today, I thought,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said Sunday. “He made some aggressive plays. ... I don’t think he hurt us. But I want to see him be more aggressive. A couple shots didn’t fall for him, that were good shots. You know he’ll make shots. I’m not worried about him.”
— Three-point shooting hasn’t been an Iowa strength in the early going. It has made just 27.9 percent (12-of-43).
The Hawkeyes have shot 83 free throws, making 62 for 74.7 percent. Their opponents have attempted just 28 foul shots.
— Bohannon will be honored at the 2018 Musial Awards Saturday in St. Louis for intentionally missing a free throw in a game last season to preserve Chris Street’s team record for most consecutive foul shots made. Street’s parents will present Bohannon with the award.
Other honorees are baseball Hall of Famers Ozzie Smith and Jim Thome, and Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, chaplain at Loyola-Chicago and a 2018 March Madness sensation.
The Musial Awards, named for St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial, honor the year’s greatest moments and individuals who embody extraordinary sportsmanship.
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