National Player of the Year front runner Luka Garza has grappled with some of the nation’s great men night after night during the Big Ten Conference game. Now he’s facing a new challenge – to be the face of a number two with high expectations in the NCAA tournament.
Grand Canyon has had quite a season under senior coach Bryce Drew. The antelopes rank second in the country in percentage defense of field targets (.376). 5th in rebound range (9.8); eighth in defensive rebounds (29.26); Ninth in goal defense (61.1); 12th place in the 3-point field goal defense percentage (.288); and 25th in assists per game (16.1).
A big reason for these numbers is the 7 foot tall man Asbjorn Midtgaard, who averaged 14.0 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks with a national best and a WAC record field goal percentage of 70.6 was a candidate for WAC Player of the Year.
« (Midtgaard) is really good by the way and they have more than one (big), » said Iowas Head coach Fran McCaffrey on his Zoom call Wednesday. « They have a great team and they are really good players and a really good coach. But we see that every night in our league. Every team has such a great man. »
The Grand Canyon presents a unique mix of greats Men. While Midtgaard uses his physicality to get simple buckets on the edge, they also have a 6-foot-10-perimeter-based tall man, Alessandro Lever. The tall men compliment each other on the floor, especially since Lever is not afraid to let it fly from the deep. He’s shot home 31 three-point points this season, shooting 39.7 percent from depth.
Iowa’s front court depth had a huge hit when Jack Nunge sustained a knee injury, but Garza is ready, if necessary, 35 or more minutes to log. The size of the Grand Canyon is nothing new to Garza and he is ready to take on the post-season challenge.
« To be honest, I’ve been playing this size for four years, » said Garza on Wednesday. « In the Big Ten we have a lot of people who are big and really good. I’m definitely used to playing guys my size, but I’m definitely looking forward to this matchup. I think he (Midtgaard) is. » A really, really good big one, and he makes good use of his size. He’s really efficient in the field. But I think it (size) doesn’t concern me anymore because I’m so used to it now. «
» It’s something we’re used to when it comes to how we try to set up Luka and how we try to carry out our offense successfully. In a lot of ways we run it through him, « said McCaffery. » But we have a really good point guard. We have really good shooters. We have other parts that we put in, but from that point of view it won’t be that different. We just have tremendous respect for the Grand Canyon, its staff and the work they have done. «
Garza’s offensive versatility is a big challenge for any opponent. The probable international of the year can go outside and hit a 41 percent three-point, but he can also punish you on the low block, especially if he’s single-covered is.
« (Garza) is probably one of the best players of the last decade, » said Drew. « He only scores with high pace. Whatever we do, he’ll find ways to score. «
After the 2020 NCAA tournament was canceled, Garza evaluated his options but decided to return for his senior season. One of the biggest reasons was To take Iowa deep into the NCAA tournament.
« I came back to play with this team and these guys. I came back to take part in this tournament. This is something I’ve been attached to for a while. The lack of that tournament last year added motivation. «
» For now, we’re focusing on the Grand Canyon, taking it one game at a time. I think we have a chance to do something special by playing the way we can. «
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