Iowa center Luka Garza celebrates after making a basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Ohio State. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
- Luka Garza and the No. 3 Iowa Hawkeyes (3-0) host the No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels (3-1) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Tuesday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Iowa City
- The Hawkeyes have dominated their opponents so far, winning by an average margin of nearly 33 points, while the Tar Heels are coming off a narrow loss to Texas in the Maui Invitational title game
- Read below for odds, analysis, and our best bet for this matchup between North Carolina and Iowa
Wooden and Naismith Award favorite Luka Garza and his third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes get their first true test of the season in an ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup against the No. 14 North Carolina Tar Heels Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET in Iowa City.
Iowa has dominated their first three opponents so far this season, beating North Carolina Central, Southern and Western Illinois by an average margin of 32.7 points. Meantime UNC is coming off a narrow 69-67 loss to Texas in the Maui Invitational last week.
Garza has lived up to the preseason hype an accolades, averaging 34.0 points and 9.7 rebounds in just 26.0 minutes. The Heels, meantime, were down 16 points in the first half against the Longhorns and were lucky to even have a chance at what would have been a miraculous comeback in the Aloha State. Now, Iowa is a 3.5-point favorite over UNC.
#14 North Carolina vs #3 Iowa Odds
|North Carolina||+150||+3.5 (-106)||O 156.5 (-112)|
|Iowa||-178||-3.5 (-114)||U 156.5 (-108)|
Odds taken Dec. 7 at FanDuel
Fran McCaffery’s club hasn’t been challenged thus far in this truncated 2020-21 campaign. But that hasn’t curtailed Garza’s intensity.
Luka Garza’s 76 points over his last two games are the most in a two-game span by a Big Ten player over the last 20 seasons 😳 pic.twitter.com/5FePbGToBA
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 4, 2020
“I call him ‘Garzilla,’” ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg said of Garza. “It’s just how hard the dude plays. He plays every single possession like it’s the last possession of his career. He plays as hard as he did (Greenberg was referencing Thursday’s 99-58 win) against Western Illinois that he did against Michigan last year. Garza had 44 against Michigan on Dec. 6, 2019.
UNC’s comeback in paradise was impressive — but sophomore Armando Bacot lamented the team shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.
“I think that shows when we play hard and go out there and fight we can compete and just come back, but that’s not how we want to play,” Bacot, who posted 10 points and 12 rebounds for his 12th career double-double in the losing effort, said. ” We want to play like that the whole game and not just when we’re down.”
So, which team does its power conference proud at Carver-Hawkeye Arena Tuesday? Let’s handicap this one and make a pick.
2021 NCAA Men’s Tournament Championship Odds Tracker
Greenberg’s take on Iowa’s star is spot-on. The guy’s motor is unstoppable (not unlike former Tar Heel Tyler Hansbrough), while also elevating those on the floor around him.
The 6-foot-11 center is shooting a ridiculous 76-percent from the field, averaging nearly three blocks a game and has scored at least 20 points in 19 straight games. In other words, dude is on another level. Is there a player on Roy Williams’ roster than can slow down this monster?
Brooks and Done?
That player could be Garrison Brooks.
The senior big man has been the glue thus far for UNC through its first four outings, scoring at least 10 points while also accounting for just under 9 rebounds in three straight appearances.
Brooks landed awkwardly on his ankle against Texas, but the extended rest should give him time to be at or near 100-percent. Iowa is a blue-collar team — and features plenty of talent beyond Garza — but if Brooks is his normal self, expect the Tar Heels to keep it close against the Hawkeyes. North Carolina is slightly more battle-tested early on and has a Hall of Fame coach on their sideline.
While Iowa is No. 3 and North Carolina is No. 14 according to the AP poll, these two teams are rated much more closely according to Ken Pom. The Hawkeyes are No. 11, while the Heels are No. 14 in adjusted efficiency margin. Plus, UNC ranks much higher (No. 14) when it comes to adjusted defensive efficiency than Iowa (No. 71) — a key stat for a team attempting to slow down what has been an offensive juggernaut early on.
Iowa is more than Garza. Redshirt sophomore Jack Nunge, who possesses a 7-foot-2 wingspan, put up 18 points against Western Illinois. Plus, point guard Jordan Bohannon has knocked down numerous critical shots over the course of his time in Iowa City. Yes, they need tighten things up defensively. But the Hawkeyes appear to be really good. The Tar Heels will give them a fight — the over is also a solid play in this spot — but I expect Garza, on his home court, to continue rolling.
The pick: Iowa -3.5 (-114)
Blair Johnson is a veteran journalist and seasoned sports content creator. He has been writing and producing content as long as he can remember, with such familiar names as CNN, NFL Media and Yahoo. Blair currently lives and works in the greater Los Angeles area.