When you have the best player in college basketball, you have a chance at a deep NCAA tournament run. And for the first time, the Iowa Hawkeyes have the best player in the sport.
Iowa has never had a winner of the Naismith Award, which goes to the best player in college basketball, or the Associated Press’ player of the year. Center Luka Garza is the runaway favorite to win it this season.
Garza is having a monster season. He’s averaging 27.4 points per game on a remarkable 62.4% shooting from the field. Garza has a huge lead in KenPom.com’s player of the year standings, which is based on analytics. It seems as if only an injury can keep Garza from sweeping all the player of the year awards.
But what will that mean for the Hawkeyes in March?
Iowa has a chance to make a tournament run
The team with the player of the year has often made a deep tournament run, but there have been few championships. It’s hard to win six tournament games in a row, even with a transcendent player.
Since Christian Laettner and Duke in 1992, only three AP player of the year winners have won a national championship in the same season. Shane Battier did it with Duke in 2001, Anthony Davis and Kentucky pulled it off in 2012 and Villanova won a title with Jalen Brunson in 2018. Great players like Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Zion Williamson had award-winning seasons but didn’t get a championship.
Iowa is a title contender but not the favorite. Gonzaga and Baylor are the two clear favorites to win it all at this early stage in the season. Iowa is in the next tier of contenders though. The Hawkeyes are tied for the seventh-best odds.
Here are the NCAA championship odds as of Monday:
Iowa is +225 to make its first Final Four since 1980. If the Hawkeyes get there, it will be because of their offense.
According to KenPom.com’s efficiency stats, Iowa has the best offense in college basketball so far this season. The problem for the Hawkeyes might be defense. They rank 93rd in adjusted defensive efficiency. KenPom’s rankings go back to 2002 and no national champion in that time has ever finished outside of the top 20 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
If Iowa wins a national championship, they’ll be an extreme outlier with that defense.
Can anyone challenge Luka Garza for player of the year?
There’s less of a question about player of the year. Even if another player has a huge surge over the final two months of the regular season, Garza might still need to slump to be caught.
Ayo Dosunmu of Illinois might be No. 2 right now and he’s far behind Garza. Gonzaga teammates Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs are in the conversation, but nowhere near challenging Garza yet. Unless Garza gets hurt and misses time, he seems very likely to become the first Iowa player to be a consensus national player of the year.
Garza surprised many by returning to Iowa after being a first-team All-American last season. The Hawkeyes brought a lot of experience back with Garza, and they’re off to a good start. The Hawkeyes are 9-2 with a loss to No. 1 Gonzaga and an overtime loss to Minnesota. They gave up 99 and 102 points in those losses, which speaks to the concerns about their defense in March.
Garza looks like a near-lock to win player of the year. But he presumably came back for more than individual awards. The Hawkeyes will be trying to buck some history to win a championship.