Already flying high, No. 3 Iowa faces winless Northern Illinois


Just a few weeks into this unique college basketball season, things are going extremely well for Luka Garza and his Iowa teammates.

The third-ranked Hawkeyes (5-0) and their star forward will look to continue their recent dominance when they oppose Northern Illinois (0-4) on Sunday in Iowa City.

One of the favorites to win the Big Ten title, Iowa has been truly dominant out of the gate. The Hawkeyes are averaging 99.4 points, shooting 49.9 percent from the floor and beating their opponents by an average 27.8 points.

Garza (30.4 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, 67.9 percent shooting) has obviously been a major reason for Iowa’s early success. He topped the 30-point mark for the third time already this season on Friday, scoring 34 — including 21 straight Iowa points in one stretch during the second half — while making 6 of 7 from 3-point range in a 105-77 rout of rival Iowa State.

Garza, a national player of the year candidate, also moved into fifth place on the school’s all-time scoring list with 1,711 points.

“The beautiful thing about (Garza) is that he can score inside and outside,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “He scores wherever you put him.”

Garza, though, was not the only Hawkeye to shine on Friday. Jack Nunge had 17 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, and Joe Wieskamp scored 16 to raise his season average to 14.2 points per game.

“You’ve got to be able to move the ball and get offense from a variety of different places,” McCaffery said, “and you’ve got to be able to play through your best player.”

There’s a good chance McCaffery will once again see multiple offensive contributors on Sunday. Iowa is 8-0 all-time against Northern Illinois, but the teams have not met since the Hawkeyes rolled to a 98-75 win over the Huskies on Dec. 29, 2017.

As a freshman, Garza came off the bench to score 25 points and grab seven rebounds in 16 minutes in that game.

The Huskies seem headed in the opposite direction from Iowa. Northern Illinois hasn’t started 0-5 since beginning 0-11 in 2011-12, a stretch that included an early loss at Iowa.

This installment of Northern Illinois basketball is giving up 76.5 points per contest while averaging just 60.8 and shooting 40.1 percent from the field. The Huskies are just 17 of 61 (27.9 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.

That said, the Huskies had a chance to pick up their first win of the season Tuesday against Ball State. They led by six at halftime but were outscored 16-7 in overtime of an eventual 79-70 defeat.

Despite Northern Illinois’ early struggles, guard Trendon Hankerson (13.3 ppg) has established himself as one of the team’s go-to scorers. He is shooting 45.7 percent and has scored 18 points in each of the past two contests.

“(Hankerson) is aggressive,” Huskies coach Mark Montgomery told the Northern Star. “He is looking to score. It’s his time. He’s a junior and he’s a leader on the floor. His time working for it has finally paid off.”

It’s uncertain whether the Huskies will have guard Tyler Cochran available. Cochran, who is averaging 14 points per game, has missed the past two games due to a COVID-19-related issue.

–Field Level Media

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