Every year in college basketball, there is one player who stands out over the rest. Four years ago it was Buddy Hield, three years ago Josh Hart was argued as the best player, although Caleb Swanigan had a pretty good case as well. Trae Young and Zion Williamson were the last two 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 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.
Iowa’s 2019-2020 Season
Iowa started off the season with some wins over low-major teams and a loss to Depaul. They then got some attention when they defeated Texas Tech, who was ranked 12th at the time. The Hawkeyes would only go on to lose one more game in the nonconference schedule, which came to San Diego State. This season, the Aztecs still have not lost a game.
The conference schedule has posted some tougher tests for the Hawkeyes. They currently sit at 8-5 in the conference with wins over Maryland, Michigan, Rutgers and Illinois. Their losses came to Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and Purdue. Iowa sits two games behind Maryland in a tight Big Ten race, as things currently stand.
It looks like Iowa is going to be a lock for the NCAA Tournament unless they have a historic collapse, which will give Garza the national spotlight to show how good he truly is.
This year, Garza is averaging 23.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game. He is shooting 55.4 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from deep and 65.4 percent from the free-throw line. The Hawkeyes have played 24 games to date, with Garza scoring at least 20 points in 18 of them. He has scored 20 points in each of the last nine games, as he tries to help his team win games.
His advanced stats are also impressive. His PER (Player Efficiency Rating) is 35.5, which is incredible. It would be hard for many people to come close to Zion Williamson’s PER of 40.8, but Garza has done just that. He also has 4.8 win shares, which will likely come close to Williamson’s 8.3 by the end of the season.
Comparing Garza’s numbers to other players will highlight his greatness more effectively. Garza is putting up 23.1 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. At Duke last year, Williamson averaged 22.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game. Williamson had the hype of him being the future first pick in the NBA Draft, but Garza is doing this without as much recognition.
Another candidate for the National Player of the Year in college basketball is Obi Toppin of Dayton. Toppin will join Garza on virtually every All-American team. Toppin has put up 19.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. Toppin is a forward, while Garza is a center, but Garza’s PER is also higher than Toppin’s 32.5. To further Garza’s case, Dayton hasn’t played near the same competitive level as Iowa, even if they are ranked higher. Dayton has some solid wins over St. Mary’s and Georgia, but they haven’t defeated a ranked team all season. Garza has done it against a tougher schedule and in a tougher conference, making what he is doing remarkable.
There are better draft prospects in college basketball and players who get more recognition, but Garza has proven already this season to be the best player in college basketball. Now, he’ll have to lead Iowa down the stretch for a chance at glory in March.
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