Every year in college basketball, there is one player who stands out over the rest. Five years ago it was Buddy Hield, four years ago Josh Hart was argued as the best player, although Caleb Swanigan had a pretty good case as well. Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Luka Garza (even though Dayton’s Obi Toppin won the Naismith award last season) were the last three best players in college basketball.
The best player doesn’t necessarily score the most, get the most assists, rebound the best or win the postseason awards, but it sometimes ends up that way. Sometimes the best player is a highly-touted draft prospect like Young or Williamson and other times the best player ends up being a role player at the next level like Hart or Swanigan. This year the best player in college basketball is once again Iowa’s Luka Garza.
Garza was the 2017 Gatorade D.C. Player of the Year in high school and decided to attend Iowa for college. As a freshman at Iowa, Garza averaged 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 21.7 minutes per game. He started 26 of the team’s 33 games. The Hawkeyes failed to reach the tournament at 14-19.
His role increased as a sophomore, as Garza started 30 games and scored 13.1 points per game. He grabbed fewer rebounds, at 4.5 per game, but the team took steps forward. They went 23-12 and made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
While things looked good for Garza to improve as a junior, not many people expected him to make as big of a jump as he did. He averaged 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. The Hawkeyes won 20 games, in large part due to Garza’s play. Although an NCAA Tournament didn’t happen, the Naismith Award for the best player ended up going to Obi Toppin of Dayton. A major reason for Toppin winning the award was Dayton’s team success, as they were looking like Final Four contenders.
Iowa’s 2020-2021 Season
Iowa is a much better team this season than they were last year, which only helps Garza’s case as college basketball’s best player. In their non-conference schedule, they lost just one game, which came to the top team in the country, Gonzaga. They racked up solid wins over North Carolina and Iowa State to enter conference play with a 6-1 record.
The Hawkeyes brought that good momentum into conference play. They only have one loss in conference play, which came to Minnesota in overtime. With wins over Northwestern, Rutgers and Minnesota, Iowa has some solid wins as they make their way to compete for a Big Ten Championship.
There are still 11 games left on the schedule, which is a lot of basketball, but Iowa has made it clear that they will compete nationally. With a NCAA Tournament this year, Garza can show how good he and his team are this season.
Garza is putting up a career-high 26.9 points per game. This is currently first in the country. He also is averaging 8.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. Garza is shooting a staggering 62.5 percent from the floor and 47.9 percent from 3-point range. He has a season high of 41 points in a game and has only missed the 20-point mark in three of 14 contests.
His season has been even more impressive than last year’s when looking at advanced stats. He has a PER of 42.8, which is even higher than last year’s mark of 34.4. Zion Williamson‘s PER of 40.8 was astronomical at the college level and Garza is even besting that. He has 3.8 win shares in just 14 games. By the end of the season he could be near 10 win shares if all games get played.
What is going for Garza in the Player of the Year Award race, is that there aren’t really many other competitors. Three other big competitors for being the best player in college basketball are on Gonzaga. They will likely split votes because they are all on the same team. Corey Kispert averages 20.9 points per game, while Drew Timme has been a good inside force. Point guard Jalen Suggs runs the team and is one of the best draft prospects. They are all All-American candidates, but likely don’t have a chance against Garza.
Outside of Gonzaga’s trio, Baylor’s Jared Butler poses a small threat. He leads one of the best teams in the country and has averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 points per game. Butler is a great player, but he would simply win the award over Garza for being the best player on one of college basketball’s best teams.
Illinois point guard Ayo Dosunmu and Oklahoma State freshman Cade Cunninghahm are contenders, but don’t have the team success or stats to match what Garza has been doing.
As stated last year, there are better draft prospects in college basketball, but that doesn’t matter when talking about the best player in college basketball. College basketball might be a guards’ game, but Garza has proven to be the premier player in the country.
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