The Monday Tipoff: Garza Will Need Help, At Both Ends Of The Court

Iowa's Luka Garza averaged 33.5 points in two games last week to earn Big Ten player of the week honors. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

Michigan’s defense made a choice on Friday night.

Lock down Iowa’s perimeter game, or double-team center Luka Garza.

Michigan chose the perimeter, and Garza scored 44 points.

But the Wolverines won the game, because they were scoring at will at the other end.

This is the blueprint the Hawkeyes will face moving forward, beginning with tonight’s game against Minnesota at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

It might be a dangerous gamble, but certain things have to happen.

The Wolverines chose a lot of Garza twos over Iowa 3-pointers, and it worked, but only because they scored 103 points compared to Iowa’s 91.

And so that will be the challenge for opposing teams in the coming weeks — figure out how to limit Iowa’s offense, especially Garza, while hoping that the Hawkeyes’ defense doesn’t improve.

Garza, named the Big Ten’s player of the week after averaging 33.5 points in Iowa’s two games last week, has already proven that he’s not going to be an easy cover. At 6-foot-11, and with the ability to shoot from the outside, every big man in the Big Ten is going to face a difficult challenge.

So defenses will face certain options.

There’s the Michigan plan — lock down Joe Wieskamp and CJ Fredrick and Jordan Bohannon, and let Garza get his points, and then hope you can outscore the Hawkeyes.

Or may see teams play any sort of zone defense, or double-team Garza, leaving someone open and hoping Iowa doesn’t get the outside shooting going, and that Iowa’s defense doesn’t improve.

What makes Garza dangerous is he is adapting to whatever defenses are thrown at him.

Think back to the DePaul game, when the Blue Demons took him out of the game early with double-teams. Garza spoke after that game about how he was getting too deep in the post, which limited his ability. He hasn’t made that mistake since then.

“He’s a guy that’s got a ton of different moves,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said after Friday’s game.

McCaffery went through the Garza checklist — his ability to score inside and outside, his ability to run the court and get into position.

“So he’s a handful to anyone who’s guarding him,” McCaffery said.

It became clear right away in that game that getting the ball to Garza was Iowa’s best option. The Wolverines crowded Iowa’s outside game to the point where it was ineffective, and Garza was usually single-covered.

“I thought we did a good job, collectively, getting the ball to him,” McCaffery said.

What the Hawkeyes didn’t do a good job collectively was executing their own defensive game plan. Giving up 103 points is not going to get you wins.

Iowa’s zone defense was good until it wasn’t, and the Wolverines were a difficult man-to-man matchup. It’s been a problem for the Hawkeyes in the past, and it’s something that has to change.

Wieskamp and Fredrick are perimeter scorers, and McCaffery said after Friday’s game it’s up to him to get more shots, especially because they may become Iowa’s best perimeter options for the rest of the season.

Bohannon can play the two games this week — Minnesota and then Thursday at Iowa State — and then make a decision to play the rest of the season or take a medical redshirt season as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.

With or without Bohannon, Iowa’s offense can get points. But the Hawkeyes will be in the best position for success when they get their own defensive woes solved.

Right now, no opponent has been able to consistently solve Garza for an entire game. He may continue to be the poison opponents choose.

Garza’s numbers on Friday night — the third-best scoring effort in school history — were historic, but Iowa still lost.

Garza is a tough cover, but he can’t carry this team until March.

Which is why the Hawkeyes have to get him collective help, at either end of the court.