Iowa basketball talks Luka Garza, Top 25 ranking ahead of Michigan State
The significance of Iowa men's basketball's Tuesday night home game is two-fold.
Its 6 p.m. tip against Michigan State will be Iowa's first of the season as a ranked team. But perhaps more significant than that is that four program alumni will have their jerseys retired on Tuesday: Chuck Darling, Luka Garza, Roy Marble and Murray Wier.
Garza was just a member of Iowa's team last season but his long list of accomplishments were too much to not have an immediate retirement. The Detroit Pistons rookie is the program's all-time leading scorer with 2,306 (ahead of Marble) and ended his Iowa career as a consensus All-American and National Player of the Year.
Now his No. 55 will hang in the Carver-Hawkeye Arena rafters.
"I have a very special relationship with him," Fran McCaffery said of Garza on Monday. "Saw him early and really got close with he and his family. As special a relationship as I've had in this profession on so many different levels, and it's always particularly rewarding when you watch someone work as hard as he has and develop into the player that he became, which is the best player in the country. That's really hard to do. But the other thing is as great a player as he is, he's even a better person."
Marble's No. 23 retirement will close a contentious chapter in the relations between the university and the Marble family. Roy's son, Devyn, a former All-Big Ten performer at Iowa from 2010-2014 tweeted last year “I’ll never watch another Iowa game in my life with the amount of disrespect that school has shown me and my family. Love the fans but I'm in no way affiliated or connected to the university," following the initial announcement of Garza's retirement.
On Monday, athletic director Gary Barta confirmed that all four of the late Marble's children will be in attendance on Tuesday.
"Roy was one of the first people I reached out to when I got to town," McCaffery said. "He was a good friend of mine and a big-time supporter of me when I got here. We remained very close right up until the time he passed (in 2015). He was everywhere in the community when it came to basketball, and he would pull my guys aside, Connor (McCaffery) and Patrick (McCaffery), and talk to them about the game and things like that.
"I always appreciated that about him. He had a great way about him, and he deserves to be up there in the rafters."
For Garza, his return to Carver-Hawkeye will be in the presence of fans (his senior season was played without fans due to COVID restrictions). An ovation is much deserved considering his impact on the program.
Point guard Joe Toussaint, Garza's teammate for two seasons, described him as an inspiration on Monday, noting Garza's path to national prominence despite not being the most physically gifted in college basketball.
Sophomore Kris Murray pointed to another aspect of Garza as most memorable: his work ethic that is a driving force for this year's team.
"It was just his hustle and attitude every single day," Murray said. "He brought the same amount of effort, never lapsed at any point in the year. Every practice he gave his best and that just resonated with me, the work ethic he had."
Here are a few other noteworthy tidbits from Monday's availability:
A quick look at Michigan State
Off a disappointing loss to Michigan last Thursday, Iowa played with the desperation necessary to pull off an upset at Ohio State that Saturday. Their opponent on Tuesday, Michigan State will arrive with that same level of desperation.
The Spartans (18-8, 9-6) had been a Top 25 mainstay until a recent skid in which they've lost four of their last five games. With a win, Iowa can move into sole possession of sixth place in the Big Ten standings.
"We have to expect their best especially with them losing their (last two) games," Murray said.
Michigan State's physical style makes them one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten. They're currently first in three-point defense (30.2%) and blocked shots (5.5), second in field goal percentage defense (40.4%). Looking back at Iowa's 48-46 loss to Rutgers in January, that was a night where Rutgers' physical approach on defense knocked Iowa off of their offensive sets.
Their priority on Tuesday is to match the physicality and deliver some of their own.
"First, we have to get them out of our space," Toussaint said. "They're physical but we're physical too. We're not going to let them put their hands all over us, we're going to get them out of our space and just play basketball."
Hawkeyes receive first ranking of 2021-22
For the first time this season, Iowa appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 25. Coaches and players try not to make big deals about rankings but admittedly, players were excited to finally see that ranked number by their name on Monday morning.
"It's always good to be Top 25," Toussaint said. "We knew we were always one of the better teams in the country and it's finally starting to click now. It feels good to see our name and 25 next to it."
Their ranking comes fresh off their 75-62 win at Ohio State. After losing three of four games to end January, the Hawkeyes hold a 4-1 record in February.
"We just kept plugging," McCaffery said. "This league is brutal. Lost some close games. You have to be able to come back and win some close games. Just kept staying positive with everybody. I thought the Ohio State game was a really good example of that. Those kids really competed, and everybody I put in made an impact on the game. That's the kind of team we have to have. That's the kind of team you have to have to win in this league, and we'll keep trying to do that."
Fran McCaffery comments on Juwan Howard
The biggest storyline in college basketball over the weekend was Michigan coach Juwan Howard striking a Wisconsin assistant after their loss on Sunday afternoon. Fran McCaffery said that he didn't see the incident live and hasn't thought much on it, but spoke out against the mandatory postgame handshake.
"I've said publicly before, the handshake line is not something I'm in favor of," McCaffery said. "Not that I'm not in favor of sportsmanship. Clearly I am. But I think it's a recipe for a problem and happens all the time."
McCaffery used their recent trip to Ohio State as an example. In the course of highly competitive games emotions run high among coaches, players and fans. That compounded with an immediate handshake where "everyone is on top of each other," according to McCaffery, where one comment can set off an incident.
In the past, McCaffery's pulled his team off the court citing player health and safety. It's likely he won't hesitate to do it again if he sees fit.
"What I don't think people realize, there's a lot of conversation that goes on between the coaches and the players before and after the game," McCaffery said. "If you want to give somebody a hug, you can. If you want to spend time with somebody, you can. It doesn't have to be forced, and it doesn't have to be right at that moment.
A lot of things happen throughout the course of games. A lot of intensity, a lot of stuff said. So you might have an issue, and there has been some. I think you just move on."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.