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Iowa’s Final Four Odds (+258) Now Shorter Than Duke; Can Hawkeyes Reach Indianapolis With No Defense?

Iowa's Luka Garza backing down Michigan's Austin Davis
Iowa's Luka Garza won multiple National Player of the Year awards last season but has not decided whether to return to Iowa City in 2020-21. Photo by Marc-Grégor Campredon (Wikimedia Commons).
  • The Iowa Hawkeyes are a trendy 2021 Final Four pick among early bettors
  • Luka Garza, Sporting News’ 2020 National Player of the Year, is undecided on whether to turn pro
  • Even if Garza comes back, Fran McCaffery’s team finished 91st in defensive efficiency last year

Perhaps some bettors out there know something the oddsmakers do not, or at least they think they do.

The odds for the Iowa Hawkeyes to reach the 2021 Final Four in Indianapolis have improved from +288 to +258 over the last month. Yet 2020 Sports News National Player of the Year Luka Garza still hasn’t made a decision on whether to return or go pro, at least not publically.

2021 Final Four Favorites

Team Odds
Gonzaga +123
Villanova +137
Baylor +138
Virginia +158
Kentucky +223
Creighton +225
Kansas +242
Iowa +258
Duke +267
Wisconsin +333

Odds as of June 19, 2020.

Iowa’s upward movement sent them past Duke in the Final Four futures, where the Hawkeyes now rank as the eighth-favorite.

The Hawkeyes haven’t reached the Final Four since 1980. Head coach Fran McCaffery, who’s been on the job since 2010-11, has never been past the Round of 32. Excluding last season, McCaffery has reached the NCAA Tournament four times in nine tries.

Will Garza Turn Pro?

This is the question on the mind of every Hawkeyes fan in the country.

Garza was arguably the best player in the country last year. There’s an even stronger argument that he was the single most important player to his team. The 6’11 junior averaged 239 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.8 BPG, and chipped in with 1.2 APG while shooting nearly 36% from three.

He was even better against elite competition. Per HawkeyeSports.com, “Garza [averaged] 26.7 points and 11.1 rebounds in 12 games against AP ranked opponents.” Garza average ten more points-per-game than Iowa’s second-leading scorer (Joe Wieskamp).

Back in April, Jeff Goodman reported that NBA scouts unanimously agreed Garza should return for his senior season. Neither his body  nor his defense are considered NBA-ready. But as of mid-May, Jon Schaeffer reported that Garza is “not close” to making his decision.

If Garza comes back, there is no doubt that he will enter the year as the preseason National Player of the Year. The only significant rotation player Iowa will definitely lose is senior forward Ryan Kriener (7.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG in 18.3 MPG). The offense, which finished the year rated fifth at KenPom, would be scary good.

That takes care of half a basketball game.

More Like “Iowa Sievy”

Whether Garza returns or not, defense is going to be a problem. Last year’s prolific Hawkeye team only finished the year rated 23rd overall at KenPom because their defense was one of the worst in the Big Ten. McCaffery’s D rated 97th in the country and 12th out of 14 Big Ten squads. Only Northwestern (150th) and Nebraska (152nd) rated worse, teams which combined to go 5-35 in conference play. Other than those three, no other team in the Big Ten had a defense that was lower than 41st nationally.

Iowa’s defense could get a little better next year, particularly if Garza works on that part of his game in the offseason. But expecting the same cast with the same coach to produce significantly better results is not a safe bet. McCaffery, in particular, does not have a track record of defensive excellence. Over his ten years at Iowa, his Hawkeye teams have ranked, on average, 100th in the country defensively. His Siena teams (2006-10) were worse, rating 116th on average.

The table below lists the worst defense in the Final Four each year for the last ten years. It’s not encouraging if you’re pulling for the Hawkeyes, and even less so if you’ve already bet on them.

Worst Defense in the Final Four by Year

Year Team (Def. Rank)
2019 Auburn (36th)
2018 Kansas (47th)
2017 Oregon  (17th)
2016 North Carolina (21st)
2015 Wisconsin (35th)
2014 Wisconsin (35th)
2013 Michigan (37th)
2012 Kentucky (7th)
2011 VCU (78th)
2010 Michigan St (27th)

The only team on the list that comes anywhere close to the 2019-20 Hawkeyes in terms of defensive futility is the 2011 VCU Rams, who were running Shaka Smart’s still-novel “havoc” defense. (Smart only became a head coach the year prior.) Every other team – and remember we are talking about the worst defense among the teams in the Final Four – was at least 50 spots ahead of where Iowa ranked last year.

The 2011 Rams held each one of their tournament opponents to 76 points or fewer. They held three of six to 61 or fewer. Last year’s Hawkeyes gave up over 80 points nine separate times.

In Summary

Betting on Iowa means betting on a team that might not have its best player, a senior who will be the preseason POY if he returns. It also means betting on a coach who’s never made it past the Round of 32. It also also means betting on a team that, even at full strength, rated significantly worse defensively than any team that’s made the Final Four in the last decade.

I don’t know who put down coin on the Hawkeyes to make it to Indianapolis in 2021, but I wouldn’t buy that bet slip at half price.

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