The Iowa Hawkeyes were a lock to reach their second NCAA Tournament in a row in 2020 before its cancellation due to COVID-19. While it’s disappointing that we never got to see what Iowa could have done in the 2020 Big Dance, there’s a silver lining if you’re a Hawkeyes fan: The roster is pretty much intact for 2020-21.
Because of the nature of college basketball, that means Iowa is a serious national championship contender.
NCAA men’s basketball odds
FanDuel has 2021 March Madness title odds posted, and the Hawkeyes are listed at +2000, the 11th team on the board. Wisconsin and Michigan State are the only Big Ten teams with shorter odds than Iowa.
Here’s the top of the board:
- Gonzaga +900
- Villanova +1000
- Baylor +1100
- Virginia +1100
- Duke +1400
- Creighton +1500
- Kentucky +1600
- Kansas +1800
- Michigan State +1800
- Wisconsin +1800
- Iowa +2000
One could argue the Hawkeyes are undervalued here. CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish has Iowa ranked sixth in his latest 2020-21 rankings, while Jon Rothstein slotted them fifth. The words “sexy” and “Iowa basketball” rarely appear in the same sentence, and the usual blueblood suspects have shorter odds than the Hawkeyes at FanDuel. But look at the rosters, and it’s pretty easy to argue Iowa should be in the top 10.
Counting on Garza to return
It all starts with Luka Garza, who could be the preseason national player of the year if he returns. Garza declared for the NBA Draft but has not hired an agent. While Garza is an excellent college player (23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds per game last season), he’s not considered much of an NBA prospect, so his return is likely. Garza was a Wooden Award finalist as a junior but fell short to Dayton’s Obi Toppin. Toppin is off to the NBA so that Iowa may have the best player in the country next season.
And he’ll have plenty of help. Iowa will return five of its top six scorers, including point guard Jordan Bohannon, who only played 10 games last year. Bohannon averaged double figures in scoring in his first three college seasons; he’s probably Iowa’s third-best player when healthy behind Garza and Joe Wieskamp. Iowa finished 23rd at KenPom in 2019-20, returns almost everyone, and adds a quality point guard in Bohannon from injury. All of that doesn’t make them a surefire title contender, but Iowa has the talent to win it. You could make worse bets at 20/1.
The Hawkeyes will add five new players, including three three-star prospects, according to 247 Sports, but the appeal here is what Iowa returns. Iowa had a national championship-caliber offense in 2019-20 — they finished fifth in adjusted offensive efficiency, per KenPom — but their defense was suspect, ranking 97th. The Hawkeyes aren’t the most athletically gifted bunch, but Bohannon’s return plus roster continuity should help on that end.
Northern Iowa also with buzz
Iowa is impressive, but don’t sleep on Northern Iowa, which is listed at +5000 to win it all. The Panthers finished 25-6 last season and may return stud guard A.J. Green (declared for NBA Draft, hasn’t hired an agent), who averaged 19.7 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a sophomore. UNI will return second and third-leading scorers Trae Berhow and Austin Phyfe.
The Panthers made 38.6% of their 3s last season, which ranked eighth in the country – and despite a surprising opening-round conference tournament loss to Drake in March, Northern Iowa is one of two MVC schools listed on the FanDuel board – Loyola Chicago is the other at +20,000. The Panthers have the same odds to win the title as Illinois and are a tier above UConn, Dayton, Maryland and Oklahoma State, all listed at +5500. UNI is right behind Arizona, Louisville and Purdue, listed at +4500.
Iowa State, meanwhile, is listed at +12,000. It’s an exciting time to be a college basketball fan in the Hawkeye State.