Basketball has become a more position-less game in the past 20 years, tilted toward perimeter play. However, Iowa’s Luka Garza and Minnesota’s Daniel Oturu are showing there’s still a place for the big man to play big in the college game.
Sure, the two are capable of facing the basket and hitting jumpers from 3-point range, but the strength of their game is working hard inside and helping their teams control the lane. On Sunday, when the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes (17-8, 8-6 Big Ten) and Golden Gophers meet in Minneapolis, the big men will be working to control each other.
Garza is on the short list of candidates for the Wooden Award and other national Player of the Year honors. The 6-foot-11, 260-pound junior is averaging 23.7 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots per game. In Iowa’s 89-77 loss at Indiana on Thursday night, Garza poured in 38 points while grabbing eight boards and rejecting four shots.
Oturu, a 6-10, 240-pound sophomore, is coming off a 32-point, 16-rebound effort Feb. 8 in an 83-77 defeat at Penn State. He is averaging 20.1 points and 11.5 rebounds per game to go along with 2.7 blocked shots.
A student of the game who once called coach Richard Pitino to ask how many points Pete Maravich might average in today’s game, Oturu said during a recent feature on Big Ten Network that Garza is one of the players he tries to emulate because of how hard he posts up on every possession.
Pitino loves Oturu’s work ethic; he just wishes he didn’t have to call on it so much. Oturu is averaging 36.5 minutes in Big Ten games because Minnesota (12-11, 6-7) can’t afford to be without him for long stretches.
“He’s probably playing too many minutes,” Pitino told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “That’s something we have to evaluate. I think he and Marcus are playing too much. He’s fought through fatigue, and sometimes we have to … get him a breather.”
Marcus is 6-2 sophomore point guard Marcus Carr, who’s playing a whopping 38.5 minutes per game in conference action. Carr is averaging 15.7 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.7 assists. His worst game of the year might have occurred in the Gophers’ first meeting with Iowa in December, when he made just 1 of 10 shots and scored two points in a 72-52 beating.
Oturu and Garza battled that night on even terms, Oturu scoring 22 points and grabbing 12 boards to Garza’s 21 and 10. But Garza’s teammates also supplied nine 3-pointers and forced 15 turnovers.
Iowa’s defense wasn’t quite as stout Thursday night at Indiana. The Hoosiers canned 45.9 percent of their field-goal attempts, including a sterling 11 of 21 from 3-point range, and earned a 39-28 advantage on the glass, thanks largely to 16 offensive rebounds.
“The key was that they got to the offensive glass and it impacted the game that way,” Hawkeyes coach Fran McCaffery said. “When you do get stops, you have to get the ball. They’re big and strong; it’s what they do, and they do it well.”
–Field Level Media