Garza, No. 5 Iowa set to open season vs. NC Central

NCAA Basketball

It looks as if it could be a big season for Iowa, so the fifth-ranked Hawkeyes might as well cherish it from the beginning.

“You embrace it and you enjoy it,” coach Fran McCaffery said of the expectations. “You don’t run from it.”

The season starts with Wednesday’s home game against North Carolina Central in Iowa City, Iowa.

Iowa holds its highest preseason ranking in 65 years, with a cast of accomplished players on the roster.

“I think it’s important that when you have older guys that have proven that they can be successful at this level, and we have one, the challenge is can we win more?” McCaffery said. “Can we win more against a tougher schedule? That’s what competition is.”

The Hawkeyes figure to be powerful, with players representing 81 percent of their scoring from a season ago on their current roster. Seven players on the roster have started at least one game.

The list begins with senior center Luka Garza, who provided 23.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game last season. He enters the new season with All-America honors and the title of the Big Ten Conference Preseason Player of the Year.

Garza, in fact, might be able to supply more in his final college season.

“I think you’ll see a better player, just because he’s worked that much harder since the season ended,” McCaffery said.

The Hawkeyes compiled a 20-11 record last season.

“We have veteran guys coming back who have produced at this level, but at the same time it won’t change in terms of our ability to share the ball,” McCaffery said. “It’s a very unselfish group. We have a lot of guys that can score, a lot of guys who want to score.”

Iowa guard Connor McCaffery, also a key returnee, led Division I in assist-to-turnover ratio last season.

North Carolina Central is the favorite in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s Southern Division, a format being used for the first time to reduce travel.

The Eagles finished last season with an 18-13 record, with their final game in the MEAC Tournament quarterfinals resulting in a 92-75 victory against Delaware State. The rest of the season was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. North Carolina Central won the three previous tournament titles.

Senior C.J. Keyser is an All-MEAC preseason first-team choice. He averaged 11.6 points per game despite missing time last season with an injury and illness.

Coach LeVelle Moton’s team might benefit from the addition of Nehemie Kabeya, a 6-foot-9 center who transferred in after two seasons with College of Southern Idaho. He began his career with Western Texas College.

“Kabeya will bring height, size and athleticism on the frontline that will make it more difficult for teams to score at the rim,” Moton said of Kebeya, who’s bound to be matched up against Garza. “He has an uncanny knack to rebound the ball at a high level.”

Iowa has won nine consecutive openers. The Hawkeyes defeated NC Central 73-63 in the only meeting between the teams 11 years ago.

–Field Level Media

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