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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

No shortage of compliments from both sides ahead of Gonzaga, Iowa showdown

Dec. 18, 2020 Updated Fri., Dec. 18, 2020 at 10:13 p.m.

Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp (10), who is averaging 15.2 points per game, celebrates with Hawkeyes scoring leader Luka Garza after making a 3-pointer against Rutgers during a Jan. 22 Big Ten Conference game in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Associated Press)
Iowa junior Joe Wieskamp (10), who is averaging 15.2 points per game, celebrates with Hawkeyes scoring leader Luka Garza after making a 3-pointer against Rutgers during a Jan. 22 Big Ten Conference game in Iowa City, Iowa. (Associated Press)

They are two of college basketball’s best teams, best offenses, best big men and best bets to win the national championship.

No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 3 Iowa should keep the scoreboard operator busy when they collide Saturday morning at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

By any measure, the teams belong in one of college basketball’s most anticipated games. Iowa is No. 1 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency, followed by Gonzaga.

The Hawkeyes lead the nation in scoring (100.5) and assists (24.0) and boast player of the year front-runner in Luka Garza. Gonzaga puts up 93 points per game, hits 65.3% inside the 3-point arc (second nationally) and might have three players in the player of the year discussion with Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and freshman Jalen Suggs.

The Zags are 9/2 favorites to win the national title, according to BetOnline. Baylor is second at 17/2 and Iowa third at 9/1.

“Both teams push the ball, both teams have shooters and both can score on the inside,” Garza said. “I think it’s very similar. Both teams are really aggressive offensively and looking to attack.”

One major difference: Gonzaga (3-0) is looking for the reset button facing its first game since Dec. 2. The Zags’ past five games were shut down by COVID-19 issues. Iowa (6-0) has maintained a fairly consistent routine of practices and games.

“I think it’s going to come back rather quickly,” GU coach Mark Few said, “but a good portion of the group was not able to do anything conditioning-wise. That’s what we’re trying to get going these next couple of days” before the game.

As one might expect, compliments were flying in both directions.

Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery on Suggs: “He would have been a lottery pick last year if he could have come out of high school. It’s a complete skill set, that’s what it is. … He’s really special at delivering the ball at the absolute perfect time, which is a gift. Very much like Jason Kidd when I saw him in high school. If you throw it 1 second later or earlier, it’s a turnover. When those guys throw it, it’s an assist.”

Few on limiting Garza: “You don’t. You try your best. He’s shown on everybody that he can post numbers in a variety of ways. You’ve got to try your best and throw a bunch of different things at him. All the while, they have a potent 3-point attack that’s just as dangerous as he is, so it’s a fine line.”

McCaffery on Timme: “He runs and he’s like a guard, but he handles the ball really well. He moves in the post, makes moves from the perimeter. Really good at creating angles and he passes the ball to his teammates.”

Few on Iowa’s second-leading scorer Joe Wieskamp: “He’s a do-it-all kind of player with great size who can hurt you on all three levels. He’s just one of those great college players with a great winning mentality.”

The Zags, on paper at least, have a defensive edge. Gonzaga is 14th in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metrics, Iowa is 75th.

There are subtle differences in how the teams arrive at their prolific offensive numbers. Iowa has drilled double-digit 3s in five of six games, including 17 in a win over North Carolina. Garza leads the nation at 68.4% (13 of 19).

The Zags have been lethal in transition after forcing turnovers or missed shots and they’re a handful in the half-court working off high ball screens. GU has made just 16 3-pointers in three games.

“Whenever someone is scoring lot of points, you look at points off turnovers, fastbreak points,” Hawkeyes senior guard Jordan Bohannon said. “Usually, when we’re scoring a lot of points, we’re scoring a lot of fastbreak points. So that comes down to our offense taking care of the ball and not getting them off on runs and letting them get easy buckets that way.

“That’s a good place to start. After that it’s just playing the full 30 seconds on the shot clock on defense.”

Gonzaga is shooting for another top-10 win after victories over No. 5 Kansas and No. 8 West Virginia.

“I’m sure they’re planning on trying to slow Drew down and throw different looks at our offense,” Few said, “and I’m hoping ours is as challenging to them as theirs is to us.”

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