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Iowa Can Cement Itself As Title Contender This Weekend

The Hawkeyes have a huge matchup against Gonzaga on Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Northern Illinois at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Whether fans admit it or not, college basketball’s reality has always been clear. No matter the excitement during the regular season, it’s a sport that’s always going to be dominated by its postseason. It’s not a complaint, it’s just reality. March Madness is the most magical time of the year and everyone knows it. It will always overshadow the regular season.

But every once in awhile, you get one of those matchups that can flip the narrative.

One so big fans can’t help but tune in.

And the Big Ten is getting one on Saturday with Iowa vs Gonzaga.

It’s a matchup that has everything you could want. Two high profile teams, two well known head coaches, and plenty of star power on both sides. Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 nationally, Iowa is ranked No. 3, and both teams are in the top five on KenPom. Additionally, Iowa has the National Player of the Year favorite in Luka Garza and Gonzaga has Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme.

Those kind of statements should be enough to get any fan excited.

And while it’s still December, there’s a lot on the line on both sides. On one side, Gonzaga is hoping to keep its spot atop the rankings and add another marquee win before entering the dregs of West Coast Conference play. A weak conference (ranked as the ninth-strongest conference per KenPom) means Gonzaga has to grab non-conference wins to earn a high seed in March. And with a COVID-19 shortened slate, it’s even more important.

And for Iowa, this is a chance to finally prove the team belongs among the nation’s elite. The Hawkeyes have been good in recent years under Fran McCaffery, but have never put it all together under his leadership. Iowa has been plagued by enough blown opportunities and underwhelming finishes to prevent the program from reaching the sport’s heights.

McCaffery has gotten them to the door step.

Now, the question is whether Iowa can open the door this weekend.

The matchup itself should be an exciting one. The two teams are remarkably similar, featuring elite offensive production and great big men. Iowa and Gonzaga rank first and second, respectively, in offensive efficiency this season and both Garza and Timme are in the top five in KenPom’s national player rankings. Expect quite a battle down low between those two. Both dominate the paint and we should get a great look at Garza’s defensive improvement then.

Perhaps the deciding factor will be from outside the arc. Iowa has been red hot from three-point range this season, ranking 26th nationally in three-point percentage. And while Gonzaga is usually great from deep (7th nationally last season), the Bulldogs haven’t been as great so far. For example, Gonzaga shot a rough 28.6 percent from deep in the team’s matchup against Auburn. Even against a tough opponent, that leaves a lot to be desired.

So, can Iowa get it done and cement itself as a national title contender?

We’ll have to wait until Saturday to find out for sure, but for once, it looks possible.