Why Iowa basketball's Filip Rebraca could be big against Wisconsin, plus three things to watch

Iowa men's basketball's 80-75 win over Maryland on Monday night was big for one obvious reason: It gave the Hawkeyes their first Big Ten win.

But another big development was hidden within that win. That was the performance of transfer center Filip Rebraca. The North Dakota transplant scored a season-high 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting and pulled in eight rebounds. 

Rebraca's transition is different than a freshman like Payton Sandfort or a reserve from last year's team like Tony Perkins. Why? Well, Rebraca went from being a focal point of North Dakota's offense to being a lower-volume offensive threat at Iowa. 

Nearly 15 games into the season, the hope is Rebraca is getting more comfortable. Monday night showcased what he could be once he settles in: a veteran decision-maker, a skilled finisher around the rim and a willing (albeit undersized at 6-foot-9) rebounder.

"That's who he is, what you just saw," head coach Fran McCaffery said after Monday night's game. "He's good. He's a talented guy. I think he's tried really hard to fit in. He's such a good person. He wants to win. He wants to be a great teammate. He wants to be coachable. And at some point you have to go after it the way he did tonight. It was noticeable. His aggressiveness, physicality, was really impressive. I'm happy for him." 

Iowa forward Filip Rebraca (0) had his most impactful game at Iowa on Monday night against Maryland with 13 points and eight rebounds.

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

Iowa's game Thursday night at No. 23 Wisconsin could be another game in which Rebraca is impactful. Iowa has struggled to rebound in its losses, but Wisconsin has that same issue. The Badgers rank 12th in the Big Ten in rebounding defense, 11th in rebounding offense and 12th in rebounding margin. Iowa's ranking in those categories: 10th, 9th and 11th. That isn't a staggering difference but in games where Iowa's not obviously overmatched the Hawkeyes need to take advantage.  Rebraca carrying over momentum from Monday will be critical to Iowa's success. 

Rebraca was a double-double machine at North Dakota, leading the Summit League in 2019-20 (13). As his comfort level improves, could he be a major answer to Iowa's issues? 

At least that's what McCaffery hopes.

"As good as he was in the past, this is a new and different opportunity for him," McCaffery said on Wednesday via Zoom. "We need him to continue to be aggressive like he was (on Monday). He's been that way in some games, others he's been a facilitator. But he's done a great job on the glass, really good defender and is getting more comfortable with what we're doing. I'm excited for him and he makes us a lot better when we're playing this way." 

Previously:What to know about Filip Rebraca, Iowa basketball's latest addition in the transfer portal

Here are three more things to watch for on Thursday night: 

The turnover battle will be key 

Iowa and Wisconsin are style contrasts with Iowa's up-tempo pace against Wisconsin's slower approach, but where they're very similar is turnovers. Thursday's contest will feature the two teams who are averaging the fewest turnovers per game in the country. 

Iowa's Keegan Murray explained on Wednesday how they make so few mistakes with the ball while playing at their pace. 

"It's controlling our tempo," Murray said. "We don't want to get too sped up and that just comes with practice. Obviously Joe (Toussaint) has been really good at that this year, pushing the tempo and getting it to open guys down the floor. I feel like we need to continue to do that, don't get sped up and we'll get easy buckets and easy looks." 

There's an added emphasis in taking care of the ball in this game because Iowa's on the road. Thursday is the Hawkeyes' first road game since their Dec. 9 loss to Iowa State where they committed a season-high 12 turnovers. 

"You can't go on the road against a team of that caliber and cough it up," McCaffery said. "I think this particular Wisconsin team is getting out (in transition) a little more than past teams. You have to understand how to play the game, how they defend and what things work for us and make adjustments if need be. Turnovers is a big key and understanding personnel is a big key."

More:Three big reasons why Iowa basketball survived Big Ten test from Maryland

Wisconsin's Johnny Davis was dominant in a win over Purdue, with 37 points and 14 rebounds.

How will Wisconsin test Iowa's defense? 

Improving on defense has been a consistent theme for Iowa dating to preseason practice. In points given up, the Hawkeyes are 13th in the Big Ten with 70.5 allowed per game, but they're fourth in blocked shots, second in steals and first in turnover margin. 

Through 14 games, the effort's mostly been there but it remains a work in progress.

"We've played good at times and others we haven't been connected," forward Connor McCaffery said. "I think it comes down to just trying to get the right lineups to mesh and be connected. We're still young, we have guys who haven't been out there, different lineups and different teams you play against."

McCaffery highlighted the difference in different Big Ten styles using Iowa's most recent opponent and their next. There were stretches were Maryland played with four guards and a big man whereas Wisconsin will play multiple big men and seek to play through the post. 

How exactly will Wisconsin and star Johnny Davis (22.3 points a game) test Iowa's defense? The Iowa senior said it'll primarily come from patience, with Wisconsin taking most possessions deep into the shot clock. 

"It's going to be a physical game where we have to endure long possessions," McCaffery said. "They got (Brad Davison) back for them who will obviously make shots for them late in the shot clock, Johnny Davis is one of the best players in the country and we know that going in. At some point they're going to make runs and we have to stay the course."

More:Another career night from Keegan Murray gives Iowa basketball its first Big Ten win

The emergence of Keegan Murray and Johnny Davis 

It's not often that a game features teams that both have twin brothers, but that will be the case on Thursday night with Keegan and Kris Murray and Wisconsin's Johnny and Jordan Davis.

Keegan Murray said on Wednesday that despite them both having Midwest roots, their paths didn't cross on the AAU circuit, but he's excited about this matchup. 

Johnny Davis is similar to Keengan Murray in that he was an impressive reserve player as a freshman last year and is having a breakout sophomore season. Davis is Wisconsin's leading scorer and rebounder (7.3 boards per game) and recorded 37 points and 14 rebounds on Monday against Purdue. Meanwhile, Keegan Murray put up 35 points and eight rebounds on the same night. 

Both are projected top-10 picks in Bleacher Report's newly released 2022 NBA mock draft. Their development is no surprise to Fran McCaffery. 

"Some guys graduated so you knew both of their roles would expand," McCaffery said. "But I don't think anyone's surprised, you could see both of those guys coming." 

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 ksmith@gannett.com.