The long (long) wait is over: Iowa men's basketball once again has the Big Ten Player of the Year. After roasting the rest of the Big Ten on a twice-weekly basis for the last two months and change, the Big Ten coaches and media made official what all of us have known for a while: Luka Garza is the best damn player in the best damn conference in the country.
Garza got plenty of congratulations from Iowa coaches and teammates -- and even some from coaches who aren't on the basketball staff.
Hawkeye Luka Garza is the first B1G Player of Year since Sam Williams 52 years ago. pic.twitter.com/MU1ph5rBMb— Iowa Basketball (@IowaHoops) March 9, 2020
When @HawkeyeFootball Kirk Ferentz heard @B1GMBBall Player of the Year @LukaG_55 was in the house for an interview, he had to stop in and congratulate and compliment the @IowaHoops standout. #VoteGarza #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/UAcAJUqlfl— Matt Weitzel (@BigWeitz) March 9, 2020
Numbers don't always tell the full story -- but they start to paint a pretty compelling picture for Garza as the Big Ten Player of the Year. He led the Big Ten in scoring -- by almost four points per game. Garza averaged 23.9 ppg this year; the next-highest scorer in the Big Ten was Minnesota's Daniel Oturu, who averaged 20.0 ppg. Garza's 740 (and counting) points this season are 141 more than any other player in the Big Ten. He's third in field goal percentage, making 54.2% of his attempts. And he was fourth in rebounding in the Big Ten, averaging 9.8 rebounds per game. He was particularly good on the offensive glass, where his 3.6 offensive boards per game ranked second in the league (just behind Oturu at 3.8 per game). Oh, and he was seventh in the Big Ten in blocks per game (1.8), despite his reputation as a defensive non-factor.
But let's go back to the scoring for a moment because Garza's incredible ability to put the ball in the basket this season is definitely the primary reason that he was named Player of the Year. That 23.9 ppg average? It's actually weighed down by Garza's non-conference exploits. In league play -- again playing in the toughest league in the country, while facing the fifth-toughest schedule in the nation, and dealing with a non-stop parade of quality big men -- Garza's scoring average rose to 26.2 ppg, the highest conference scoring average for a Big Ten player since 1994.
Pretty good company to be in!
Similarly, against the best teams on Iowa's schedule, Garza was at his best -- he averaged 26.7 ppg and 11.1 rpg in Iowa's 12 games against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. He's scored 20 or more points in 16 consecutive games (and counting), an Iowa record and the most by any Big Ten player since Dennis Hopson put together a similar streak for Ohio State in 1987.
Garza is technically the first Iowa player to ever be named Men's Basketball Player of the Year in the Big Ten; the award didn't exist until 1985 and no Iowa player had won the honor in the first 35 years of its existence. (Although we still hold a grudge about Andre Woolridge being denied that distinction back in 1997. #Justice4Dre) The last Iowa player to earn a similar honor was Sam Williams, who was named Big Ten MVP by the Chicago Tribune back in 1968.
A ton of great @IowaHoops players over the years. Crazy to think the last Big Ten MVP before Luka Garza was Sam Williams in 1968.— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) March 9, 2020
Or, the last consensus first-team All-American was Chuck Darling in 1952.
The wait is over now, though. Luka Garza is all alone atop the mountain in the Big Ten. Why not celebrate with Luka by watching almost 10 minutes of highlights of him dominating the Big Ten?
Or by watching him talk to BTN's Mike Hall after being named Player of the Year?
We're gonna hold you to that 44-point guarantee, Luka! But seriously: congratulations, Luka. You're the best of the best in the Big Ten. It's been an absolute privilege to watch you do your thing for the last 4+ months -- and here's hoping we have a few more weeks of Garza brilliance to enjoy.