As No. 11 Iowa hits the road for a pair of games against top-five opponents Thursday, Iowa’s star senior center is in the spotlight, and his offense may need to lead the team to its championship dreams.
The Hawkeyes own four of the top 35 offensive single-game performances of the season, adjusted for opponent quality, and rank No. 4 in the country in 3-point shooting percentage at 40.3% with the third-lowest turnover percentage.
Iowa has hit double-digit 3-pointers 16 times in 23 games, peaking with 17 triples in a 93-point outburst against North Carolina on Dec. 8. Their star post player, Luka Garza, is the prohibitive favorite for both National Player of the Year awards.
Garza reached 2,000 points in 113 games, faster than any other Big Ten player over the last 25 years, and is one of 11 Hawkeyes to post two 500-point seasons during their career.
He is the only Hawkeye in school history to amass four 400-point seasons, and the first and only student-athlete in Big Ten history to accumulate 2,000 points, 850 rebounds, 125 blocked shots, and 100 3-pointers.
But with only one side of the ball showing such elite skill, can the team overcome its troublesome defense to be a contender in the NCAA Tournament?
Iowa’s (17-6, 11-5 Big Ten) defense, as of Tuesday, ranked just No. 75 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
Some key factors with the roster include Iowa’s starting guard C.J. Fredrick, who has seen limited action since Iowa’s game on Jan. 21, due to a lower leg injury. The redshirt sophomore has since missed four full games and halves of two others.
But junior guard Joe Wieskamp could come in handy, as he was Iowa’s second player to register a double-double — he has four this season and eight in his career. Wieskamp was limited to two first-half points during the game against Penn State but scored nine straight Iowa points to start the second half.
Nine of Wieskamp’s 11 rebounds were defensive, which seems promising, and he has grabbed seven or more defensive rebounds in seven of the last nine outings.
Only five teams have entered the NCAA Tournament ranked No. 1 in adjusted offensive efficiency and No. 75 or worse in adjusted defensive efficiency since the 2001-02 season, FiveThirtyEight reports.
In 2005, Wake Forest had a top-ranked offense and No. 90 defense and landed the No. 2 seed but lost in the second round to West Virginia in double overtime.
In 2010, No. 1 offense and No. 88 defense California was a No. 8 seed and fell in the second round to top-seeded Duke.
In 2012, Missouri had the No. 1 offense and the No. 80 defense — similar to Iowa’s current standings — and earned a No. 2 seed but were upset in the first round by Norfolk State.
In 2014, top-ranked offense and No. 101 defense Creighton had a chance to make a run as a No. 3 seed but lost to Baylor.
In 2017, No. 1 offense and No. 134 defense Oklahoma State earned a No. 10 seed and lost to Michigan in the first round.
As the Hawkeyes continue their journey to the tournament, they will look to their star center, Garza — the nation’s leading scorer who has netted 22+ points and NCAA-best 16 times this year — to lead them to victory.