By John Bohnenkamp
Luka Garza gave a detailed scouting report of North Carolina’s frontcourt on Monday.
There is going to be wave after wave of big Tar Heels coming at the Iowa center in Tuesday’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, so it’s best that Garza, a consensus All-American last season who has a 19-game streak of scoring 20 or more points, knows what’s ahead.
Armando Bacot is a 6-foot-10 sophomore. Garrison Brooks is a 6-10 senior. Coming off the bench will be 7-1 freshman Walker Kessler and 6-10 freshman Day’Ron Sharpe.
Garza broke down each player. But he had one overall thought.
“This group of bigs,” Garza said, “is tremendous.”
It might be the biggest test from defenders that Garza has seen in the last two seasons, and he’s seen just about everything.
But if Garza and the third-ranked Hawkeyes are going to beat the 16th-ranked Tar Heels, they are going to have to go get the rebounds.
North Carolina has a plus-18 rebound margin, which ranks seventh among NCAA Division I teams. The Tar Heels average 17.8 offensive rebounds per game, second-best nationally.
“They have a collection of bigs that are great at getting to the glass and getting second opportunities for their teammates,” Garza said. “And that’s how they beat teams. For us, that’s our focus.”
“Any time you play against a Roy Williams-coached team, they’re going to play hard,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They’re going to defend. They’re going to rebound. They’re going to compete. They share the ball. They have a lot of size, and they have athletic guys on the wing and in the guard positions, and they’re always going to be a team that challenges your team in every possible way.”
And it’s that challenge the Hawkeyes (3-0) want. They blew through their first three opponents — North Carolina Central, Southern and Western Illinois — winning by an average of 32.6 points.
But Tuesday’s game starts a four-game stretch that will include a game against Iowa State on Friday and top-ranked Gonzaga on Dec. 19.
“It’s not anything that they don’t know,” McCaffery said. “They know who North Carolina is. They know the difference. The challenge is typically to get our guys to know and understand how to compete the same way every game and not to say, OK, we have Western Illinois today but we’re really looking forward to the Carolina game. No, you want to play Western Illinois, you want to play Carolina, you want to play Iowa State the same way. We all know that there’s challenges to that, especially when it’s Carolina. It’s one of the gold standard programs in college basketball for a very long time.
“They were able to watch the same games that you watched, the same games that I watched. They watched those Maui Invitational games (North Carolina lost to Texas in the championship game), so they saw who played well and they saw some of the new guys and so forth. They know the challenges that are in front of them.”
“You sign up to play these kinds of games and sign up to play these kinds of players,” Iowa guard CJ Fredrick said. “These big-time games early on help you see where you’re at. And we have a great opportunity tomorrow night to show what we can do. And we’re all really excited for the opportunity.”
“We know this is an opportunity for us to show people what we’re about,” Garza said.
Garza has been dominant to start the season. He’s averaging 33.5 points and 9.5 rebounds.
“Luka did exactly what you would expect him to do,” McCaffery said.
But the Tar Heels will provide a different challenge, one that Garza will see in the Big Ten this season.
And Garza even went down the list of the bigs he’ll see in the conference.
The scouting report is in his head. He knows what’s coming.
“I’m a basketball guy,” Garza said.
Photo: Luka Garza drives to the basket in last Thursday’s game against Western Illinois. (Stephen Mally/hawkeyesports.com)