How's Iowa basketball's big man situation through five games? Still a work in progress
A benefit of Iowa's men's basketball's lopsided results is it allows for younger players to gain developmental minutes.
Such was the case on Monday night when Iowa defeated Western Michigan 108-61 and freshman center Riley Mulvey played 14 minutes in the second half.
Mulvey played timidly in during his first few minutes of action but found a rhythm as the game went on, scoring a career-high eight points and pulling in four rebounds. It's a performance that head coach Fran McCaffery hopes can be a building block for Mulvey.
"He's really been doing well in practice," McCaffery said. "His activity level has been good and stamina we're trying to work on that. But he did really well (Monday); I'm proud of him."
Mulvey, an early high school graduate, is one of three Iowa centers vying for playing time with senior Flilip Rebraca and sophomore Josh Ogundele. Replacing Luka Garza in physical presence and production was Iowa's biggest challenge entering the season. Through five games, each player is still finding their role.
Flilip Rebraca 'still learning and meshing'
Rebraca's started in every game this year and averages six points and seven rebounds per game in 20 minutes per game. Right now his biggest adjustment is finding a place in Iowa's offense coming from North Dakota, where he spent the majority of his career as a primary scoring option.
"I still feel like I'm still learning and meshing with these guys," Rebraca said. "I'm just accepting my role and doing what I need to do to help lead this team."
Rebraca's biggest impact so far has come from rebounding and defense. He recorded 13 rebounds against UMKC on November 12 in a near double-double performance and has blocked a shot in three of their five games.
"He was really good against (Missouri-Kansas City). He was special," McCaffery said. "He provides a veteran guy with the ability on the play with physicality. He's skilled. He's got a variety of skills that really manifest themselves in different ways. Because he can dribble it, shoot it, score inside; he can gives it up easy. He really guards ball screens well. He slides his feet. I think you're seeing him just continue to improve game after game."
Keegan Murray's emergence on offense and other scoring threats have limited his touches (averaging 3.5 shot attempts per game) but McCaffery knows if needed, Rebraca can produce. But without scoring, the way that his 6-foot-9, 230 pound frame fits with this team is a reason why they can play aggressively on defense and score in transition at a higher rate.
"We're able to spread the floor and get up and down a lot more," Keegan Murray said. "We've been able to get easy baskets from turnovers but we're able to run the floor, play rim-to-rim and spread our shooters out."
Early season important for Riley Mulvey, Josh Ogundele
Behind Rebraca, Mulvey is averaging nearly 10 minutes per game and Ogundele is averaging five minutes per game. Both players are taller and heavier than Rebraca and while either haven't needed to play extended minutes, McCaffery knows he will need them in Big Ten play when facing larger opponents.
That's why this early season slate is important for development. Unfortunately for Ogundele, his early season progress is moving slower due to missing two games so far, one to injury and a non-COVID illness that kept him out on Monday.
McCaffery is focused on increasing stamina with both backups. Monday's game served as a prime example for Mulvey: For a large stretch of his minutes, there wasn't any stoppage to the game. McCaffery was looking for Mulvey's ability to play hard in screen-and-rolls on offense, sprint back on defense, play hard, potentially get a traffic rebound and sprint back on offense and do it over again. His stat line and +11 floor rating indicated a job well done.
Expectations and responsibilities will grow throughout the season but through five games, McCaffery is encouraged by what he's seeing so far. Admittedly, he'd like to have a full picture with a healthy Ogundele and that's his top priority with Friday's game against Portland State looming. After that, Iowa travels to Virginia on Nov. 29 and to Purdue on Dec. 3.
"I'd like to get Josh some more minutes," McCaffery said. "I feel bad that he's sick. But he's feeling better now and I think he'll be fine for Friday, get him some minutes and get him ready.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.