By Adam Jacobi on January 17, 2021 at 2:37 pm
Luka Garza blocks a shot and everyone makes faces
© Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Amid a dull whir of piped-in crowd noise, No. 5 Iowa trounced the hapless Northwestern Wildcats, 96-73. Luka Garza led the way, obviously, with 17 points and 10 rebounds in just 24 minutes of gameplay — always nice when your Player of the Year candidate can rest for the last 10 minutes or so of a Big Ten road game — and Iowa got 16 points from a resurgent Joe Wieskamp as well.

With the win, Iowa took a share of the lead in the Big Ten, tying Michigan at 6-1 on the season. Obviously it's worth noting that Iowa's schedule is hilariously backloaded and there are almost certainly more Ls to come, but the fact that the Hawkeyes are turning hype and potential into big wins is great to see.

As you can tell from the score, this was not a competitive basketball game, but it should be noted that Northwestern did start rather well, even taking a 29-28 lead on a fast start by Boo Buie, who hit 4 of his first 5 threes. That turned out to be a very bad idea, as Iowa opened up an absolute can in response. Iowa went on a 34-10 run in response, and the game was effectively over.

When this reserve squad gets minutes, it isn't just something to be endured, it's a fundamental transformation.

Iowa shot 58 percent for the game, even with a significant stretch of garbage time, and committed only nine turnovers in the win. That's a dangerous combination, especially with the Hawkeyes draining 10 of 24 shots from deep (10-20 before the end of the bench checked in), and a team as bad as Northwestern basically has to play the game of its life to stick around when Iowa's doing that. Obviously, they uh... they did not do that today, and Iowa led by as much as 29 late in the game before mercifully hitting the brakes.

One of the biggest differences between last year's Hawkeye squad and this year is the bench. Goodness, the bench. With all due respect to the likes of Ryan Kriener and Bakari Evelyn, when this reserve squad gets minutes, it isn't just something to be endured for the sake of resting starters, it's a fundamental transformation of the type of basketball Iowa plays, depending on who comes in. 

Joe Toussaint (5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists in 13 minutes) is Iowa's most active defender, and direly needed against the most athletic guards the Big Ten has to offer. Jack Nunge (12 points, 17 minutes) is a textbook Stretch 5 who can share the floor with Garza against bigger lineups and stymie drives to the rim with ease. And Keegan Murray — well, let's talk about Keegan Murray.

His stat line is classic Keegs: 16 minutes, 8 points on 4-4 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks and a steal (a deflection that led to an open-floor dunk in the waning seconds of the first half). Iowa outscored Northwestern by 13 points in those 16 minutes, a common theme He's the combo forward this team desperately needed on both ends of the court, and Fran McCaffery is doing a masterful job of easing him into more responsibility in the rotation. There are moments where you wonder how Iowa keeps him off the floor, and by next season it's wholly plausible that he'll have earned a starting role.

All told, Iowa's big three bench rotation guys are all +110 or more for the season, in about 200 minutes of play. By comparison, Luka Garza's at +182 with 410 minutes played. The team gets even better when they're on the floor, and opponents should dread every time they see one or more of them headed to the scorer's table.

Iowa's starters, of course, are starters for a reason. JoBo January continued at its volcanic pace, as Jordan Bohannon hit 3 of 5 shots from downtown and added 4 rebounds and 4 assists to his 11 points. CJ Fredrick added 13 points with 3-for-6 shooting from deep, and he continues to look good off the shot fake and dribble. He's not quite at Nik Stauskas levels of sauce with the handle, but he's very close to being good enough that it's a bad idea to close out hard on him, deadly as his deep jumper already is. 

Iowa's got a home date with Indiana on Thursday to try to push the win streak to six games, and now that the Nebraska game's off (hoping all get well soon and don't pass the disease to others), that's the last game before the schedule turns into Horror Mode, starting with a trip to blood rival Illinois. Nothing in this Big Ten is easy, but it's about to get real difficult. 

Hell of a challenge, hell of an opportunity. Time to do what champions do. GO IOWA AWESOME.

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