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Free-For-All Friday: Iowa Hawkeyes, Final Four Contender?

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NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Iowa
With Garza back, Iowa is a Final Four contender.
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Oh hey look, we missed a week... Again. It’s almost like we’re all running around like chickens with our collective heads cut off, but nowhere to go because the whole world is shut down?!?!

It’s wild times, ya’ll. And wild times lead to wandering minds. This week, we’re talking Luka Garza’s absurd workout videos, his NBA prospects,what else the Hawkeyes and why that’s translating to serious talk about Iowa in the Final Four.

JP: Hellooooooo Jerry. I’m late this week, what else is new?

Jerry: If you’re late, I’ve already missed the party. This week has been literal trash in my professional life. I’ve been taking Mike Tyson type punches in the chin for five straight days, but I finally think I see the light at the end of the tunnel here.

Outside of that, Luka didn’t win the REAL NPoY award, but from all intents and purposes seems like he’s working on his game (did you see the video of the trailing three pointers that Franky G put up?!?!) and about to come back into a Big Ten Conference that is losing almost every important big man. I know you and I were already drinking the Kool-Aid about next year, but holy shit is this breaking in our favor almost on a daily basis. Plus, chip on his shoulder Garza? I can’t stop dreaming about the Final Four (if sports ever return that is).

JP: So a lot to unpack here. Let’s break it down.

1. Did I see Frank’s video? Buddy, you better believe I have Twitter alerts set up to ping me whenever the man tweets. We have no sports to watch right now. Like, at all. To the point where I’m watching my neighbors play in the driveway. You KNOW I’m watching every single video of Garza training and enjoying every minute of it. The guy is the hardest worker I’ve ever seen and it’s really incredible, at a time like this, to be able to get that insight into his work.

2. The fact Obi Toppin won basically every major player of the year award says so much more about the people charged with voting on national awards than it does who was the better player or more deserving, because that was not even a debate and I’m done beating that dead horse.

3. You better believe that stuff is fueling Garza as he works out more hours a day than I’m showered. You watch Garza play once and you just know he feeds on the haters and the disrespect. You see him blow that kiss at Northwestern this year? Yeah, he’s 100% got a poster of Obi Toppin catching a lob staring down at him from his bedroom ceiling as he tries to sleep.

4. You’re 100% right on everything breaking our way here. “But JP, Garza declared for the draft!” Yeah, and if you read his declaration, he essentially said “I’m doing what Jok and Wieskamp and everyone else has done.” The guy is coming back and getting the NBA feedback is the only option here. I think he has a future in the NBA and it’s possible he decides to chance it now, but it seems much, much more likely he’s coming back and he’s going to take all offseason doing exactly what he’s doing right now in all Frank’s videos, except it’s going to be hyper focused on refining the things the NBA tells him he needs to get better at. We don’t know exactly what that feedback is going to be, but we can probably assume it involves some improvements on defense, rebounding and explosion. Can you imagine Luka Garza with a season of improvement in those areas the way he improved his offensive game this past offseason? Good Lord.

5. Now, with all that on Garza, you’re going to have CJ Fredrick (hopefully) healthy all year. You’re getting Joe Wieskamp improved. You’re getting Jordan Bohannon back in the lineup. You’re getting Joe Toussaint with another year of experience. You’re getting basically everything back from last year, but you’re replacing Ryan Kriener, who was tremendous, with Jack Nunge who is bigger, a better shooter and reportedly the second best player last offseason behind only Garza. You’re swapping out Bakari Evelyn with Ahron Ulis and Tony Perkins, who I think is this class’s Joe Toussaint in that he brings something we haven’t had in a while. He’s a true slasher who will get into the paint and dunk it on your best player’s face. You’re swapping out Cordell Pemsl and Riley Till with a pair of Murrays who are now 5 inches taller than when they graduated high school with a year of experience against quality competition (where they have absolutely torn things up as 6’8” shooters who can defend and rebound). And you’re adding another legitimate 7-footer who not only can bang inside, but is capable of stepping outside in Josh Ogundele. So yeah, I’m pretty damn excited about next year. And it seems like the talking heads who robbed Garza are turning the corner on this team for next year.

So dream away buddy!

Jerry: You’re 100% correct on the Garza Chip and that “declaring” for the NBA Draft is only beneficial for us all. I would say there is a 100% chance Luka returns and with even more tools in his arsenal. The explosion point you made needs to be the biggest focal point out of all of them. We already know that Garza can play old school post offense. He’s a big body that has already changed how he’s perceived defensively (God only truly knows how much I love Frank making him do lane slides with motivational bricks in his hands). If the two of them can develop a way for Garza to have a little more “Obi” in his game...

I... I don’t know if we as a fan base could handle it.

No matter what happens, I trust the two of them will figure out a way to improve. And that should be terrifying to the entire Big Ten Conference who seemingly lost every important big man from this past season. JoBo could literally have nothing in the tank and we could get nothing from Patrick McCaffery and Jack Nunge and I still think this Iowa team is Final Four ready. And as you mentioned, the media seems to agree? Now how in the world could the already project Iowa as a Final Four team? It’s not because of Aaron Uhlis I guarantee you that. It’s because the should’ve been NPoY is going to come back better and badder than ever. And if he somehow loses all of next seasons awards to a bigger Zach LaVine (minus the silky jumper), something went terribly wrong.

I know we don’t have any sports right now and all we can do is dream about our favorite teams. I know that I’m usually the optimist on this website and on our podcast and I generally want to view my sports world as glass half full. But there is an Iowa Basketball bandwagon forming and for once, I’m not the only driver. It’s incredible.

So the only real question that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to is what are the one or two things that can derail all of these projections from happening (if there are even one or two things at all)?

JP: I think the most obvious thing that could totally derail next season is anything preventing Luka from playing a substantial portion (or simply the end?) of next year. Whether that’s him staying in the NBA Draft or an injury or something totally unforeseen, it’s a possibility and would certainly take this team from a Final Four caliber one to just an NCAA Tournament team. And frankly, that’s pretty nuts to think about. You could take the national player of the year of this roster and it’s still a team I think could probably get out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament next season. It would be a totally different look and nobody wants to see that, but I think with what they have coming back, you’re looking at a team that finishes close to where they did this year without Luka Garza.

Now, the other super obvious thing that could derail all hope for next season is something we’re all thinking about: coronavirus is not contained and we just don’t get a season. That kept last year’s team from “making the NCAA Tournament” and potentially making a run. It kept them from a revenge match against Illinois and any sort of chance for Fran to counter the narrative he can’t win in the postseason. I’m following all too closely the developments on testing and treatments and the like, but we just don’t know when we’re getting sports back. It’s a terrible thought, but we could miss out on two great tournament runs for the best player in the country because of this damn virus.

Ugh.

Jerry: This Friday Free For All is now over. I bid you adieu. May you spend the rest of your day and weekend realizing you just somehow made things worse. May God have mercy on your soul.