Leistikow's Iowa basketball takeaways from 99-47 exhibition win against Slippery Rock

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Until Friday, it had been 612 days since fans streamed into Carver-Hawkeye Arena for an Iowa men’s basketball game. An excited, announced turnout of 10,789 showed up for an exhibition matchup against Division II Slippery Rock. 

The many families in attendance cheered a high-flying offense and an active defense in what would become a 99-47 win, not that the score mattered Friday. But the games do count starting Tuesday, when the Hawkeyes host Longwood in a 9 p.m. CT tip-off.

Friday offered our best early glimpse of Fran McCaffery’s 12th Hawkeye team.

Here were some of the highlights.

Filip Rebraca impressed with his hustle in his first game as a Hawkeye. The 24-year-old North Dakota transfer was in the starting lineup along with Joe Toussaint, Jordan Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery and Keegan Murray.

Keegan Murray and Patrick McCaffery give this Iowa team a unique, exciting look.

The 6-foot-9 sophomores — one from Cedar Rapids, one from Iowa City — were clearly the Hawkeyes’ most skilled offensive players Friday. Against a smaller opponent, their length and ability to easily recover on defense was accentuated, too.

Getting the first crack at starting in the “3” spot post-Joe Wieskamp, McCaffery was outstanding in transition. That might be the No. 1 strength of his game. The added muscle on his frame was apparent, and he didn’t seem to be any worse for wear after two badly sprained ankles forced him to miss six weeks from September to mid-October.

McCaffery rammed home a transition dunk to highlight his team-best 18 points (on 7-of-9 shooting) in a team-high 21 minutes to go with eight rebounds.

“He was playing that way all summer. That’s why I felt bad for him when he first came back,” Fran McCaffery said. “… Last week, you started to see it coming. So I’m not surprised what he did tonight. I’m happy for him.”

Murray, meanwhile, dazzled from the first possession, when he took a post feed from Jordan Bohannon and spun underneath the hoop for a reverse lay-in. Murray looked ultra-smooth and dominant, which is what you want to see from a player who is being billed as a possible first-round NBA Draft pick. Murray finished the night with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting in just 18 minutes.

More:'His best years are ahead of him:' Why analysts believe Keegan Murray could become a first-round NBA talent

In one sequence, McCaffery recovered a deflected pass and flung a perfect strike to Murray, who easily dunked the ball for a 13-2 Hawkeye lead just 3 minutes, 2 seconds into the contest. Get used to that duo delivering a lot of buckets for this Iowa team.

Filip Rebraca reminds me of a certain former Hawkeye fan favorite.

Rebraca got the start at the “5” spot, which had been held down for four years by the one and only Luka Garza. Filling the shoes of the national player of the year will be impossible, but Rebraca is clearly the Hawkeyes’ best option at the “5.” Fran McCaffery’s top 10 didn’t include Iowa’s other two centers, Josh Ogundele (who played three first-half minutes) and Riley Mulvey (who played none).

Rebraca is listed at 6-9, 233 pounds. He probably isn’t quite that tall, but he plays big. At 24, the North Dakota graduate transfer brings a level of experience this Hawkeye team needs.

More:Leistikow: Meet Filip Rebraca, an intriguing new Hawkeye with ties to NBA MVP Nikola Jokic

His game is totally different than Garza’s. Rebraca relies on hustle and rebounding to create his offense, which is sneaky-good. He’s also a willing defender; he even dove to the floor in one sequence — quite the statement in an exhibition game. Afterward, he marveled at his first experience in a Hawkeye uniform.

“It was really cool seeing this many fans for just an exhibition game,” Rebraca said. “At North Dakota, if it was packed it was only 3,000 people.

“I know what this place is about … and the history of the program. And, of course, I know who I was replacing. So I was nervous a little bit, but after the first possession I calmed down. It was good.”

Rebraca’s game reminds me a little bit of … Aaron White’s. White, Iowa’s No. 3 all-time scorer and No. 4 rebounder, made a living out of getting floor burns and creating offense off rebounds and with hustle. Fran McCaffery noted that Rebraca’s game has elevated in recent weeks, now that he has grasped the Iowa system.

“He’s an older kid, a physical kid, talented,” McCaffery said. “When he first got here, he didn’t know what we were doing. … He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, and that’s what we need.”

The biggest cheers of the night probably went to freshman Payton Sandfort and reserve Austin Ash.

Sandfort, the 6-7 rookie wing from Waukee, had some early jitters. He didn’t score in six first-half minutes. He threw one pass out of bounds.

But he got the start in the second half and looked like the outside-shooting prospect that he is. Sandfort canned a couple of 3-pointers in the opening minutes of the second half and finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting. He has a nice, high delivery on his shot. For a team that went just 1-for-9 on 3-pointers in the first half, the educated Carver crowd correctly hailed the 3s. That is going to be an expected issue for the Hawkeyes, with Bohannon the lone proven outside threat on the team.

“I talked to Connor (McCaffery) before we started the second half, and he told me he’d be looking for me and every time to get that (shot) up and it was going to go in,” Sandfort said. “That’s exactly what I did.”

Ash, Iowa’s 13th man out of 13, also had the crowd roaring with a pair of deep 3s late. He finished with 10 points in just 8 minutes, 51 seconds.

And yes, the son of former Hawkeye 3-point great Chris Kingsbury played in this one. Carter Kingsbury jacked up two 3s in his 2:59; both missed. Iowa finished 6-for-21 from 3 for the game.

Some parting thoughts … 

The starting five of Joe Toussaint, Bohannon, Patrick McCaffery, Murray and Rebraca really clicked. It's easy to see why Fran McCaffery likes that group together. They play fast and they play long, with the three 6-9 guys that can play inside or outside. Toussaint (six points, five assists) looks to have a wide lead over Ahron Ulis at point guard. … It was a tough night for Kris Murray, who fouled out in just 7:50 of playing time. We'll get a better sense of his role as the Hawkeyes' open play with six low-tier foes starting Tuesday. … Bohannon didn't need to do much Friday. He was 1-for-4 from 3-point range and scored five points in his first game as Iowa's "2" guard after five years playing the point. … Tony Perkins was a spark plug last year, and that seems to be his best role again. He had eight points and three steals while drawing four fouls. … Iowa held Slippery Rock to 21.5% shooting (14-for-65). This was not a good opponent, but Rebraca emphasized the Hawkeyes wanted to come out and play good defense. They did.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.