No. 3 Iowa 106, Northern Illinois 53: Here's what we learned

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — If you thought No. 3 Iowa hosting a winless Northern Illinois team looked like a mismatch on paper, you should have seen it play out in person.

The Hawkeyes, as you would expect, turned Sunday's game into a cross between a scrimmage and an open gym, doing whatever they wanted on both ends of the court for a 106-53 victory to run their record to 6-0.

Luka Garza scored 23 points in 20 minutes before becoming a large Hawkeye cheerleader. Joe Wieskamp added 20 points. The Hawkeyes flustered the Huskies (0-5) into 32% shooting.

Iowa center Luka Garza drives to the basket ahead of Northern Illinois forward Chinedu Okanu, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Here's what we learned:

Garza may be college basketball's biggest mismatch

The week began with Iowa's all-American center scoring 16 points on 20 shot attempts against a large and physical quartet of North Carolina post players. The Hawkeyes won 93-80, and Garza contributed 14 rebounds and four blocked shots. But it was the perimeter players that carried the offensive load for Iowa in that one. No matter. Garza responded by scoring 57 points in his next 37 minutes of game action, in wins over Iowa State and Northern Illinois.

He can't be stopped when facing often even two defenders, let alone one. Garza made 21 of 24 shots in the two games, including eight 3-pointers. Hawkeye fans probably already knew this, but they are witnessing sheer brilliance.

Keegan Murray is one polished freshman

We may never know whether Fran McCaffery really intended to give extended minutes to a true freshman this season, or if Keegan Murray simply forced him to that conclusion. Either way, the 6-foot-8 forward out of Cedar Rapids has been one of the surprise success stories of the early season for Iowa.

Murray averaged 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15 minutes of playing time in the Hawkeyes’ opening five games, the only first-year player in McCaffery’s regular nine-man rotation. On Sunday, Murray entered the lineup early and show an impressive array of skillful moves. You could pick which was your favorite: His easy stroke on a pair of 3-pointers; his dazzling layup along the baseline that he started with a behind-the-back dribble that bought him the space necessary; his blocked shot at the rim; or his two offensive rebounds that led to five points.

Iowa forward Keegan Murray (15) blocks a shot by Northern Illinois guard Anthony Crump (50) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Murray looks to be the complete package already, and someone Iowa fans will embrace for years to come.

Some great experience for Ahron Ulis

The point guard was next up among McCaffery’s five true freshmen, with 35 minutes of court time heading into Sunday’s game. This time, Ulis got the call in the first half as McCaffery gave him a chance to run the show alongside veteran starters Garza, Connor McCaffery, Wieskamp and Jordan Bohannon

 No doubt this was to allow Ulis to get a feel for what it will be like when he’s the man in charge, not just a first-year player getting garbage-time minutes. Ulis didn’t look to shoot but was intent on moving the basketball and handling the middle of Iowa’s press on the other end. At one point, he pulled Wieskamp aside to ask for some instruction after an offensive possession that ended with a Garza basket and foul. Ulis, whose older brother Tyler plays in the NBA, appeared to make the most of his time in the lineup, soaking up some knowledge that he hopes will pay off later in his career. Or later in this season, since you never know when a substitute will be needed to fill in due to injury or illness.

Iowa is next scheduled to face No. 1 Gonzaga at 11 a.m. Saturday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in the most highly anticipated non-conference matchup in recent Hawkeye history.

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.