Iowa basketball's frontcourt prepares for a tough Michigan matchup, plus a few other notes

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

Iowa men's basketball season has turned around after back-to-back wins over Indiana and Rutgers and a big reason why is the continued strong play of its frontcourt.

The starting frontcourt of Connor McCaffery, Kris Murray and Filip Rebraca combined for 65 of the team's 91 points against Indiana. Against Rutgers, another strong outing by the trio coupled with 22 points from Payton Sandfort led the way.

Rebraca mentioned a running joke between himself and Murray at Wednesday's media availability about the stretch of quality bigs the Hawkeyes have faced recently: Indiana's Trayce Jackson-Davis and Race Thompson, Rutgers' Clifford Omoruyi and next up: Michigan All-American Hunter Dickinson at home on Thursday (6 pm on ESPN2). Coach Fran McCaffery echoed those sentiments.

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"It all starts with Dickinson," Fran McCaffery said. "He's one of the best players in the game right now."

Iowa forward Filip Rebraca, left, shoots the ball as Rutgers forward Mawot Mag during Sunday's game.

How can Iowa win that matchup? To start, Iowa's forwards must stay out of foul trouble.

Rebraca logged 40 minutes against Rutgers and 38 against Indiana, Murray would've seen a third straight 40-minute game but got into foul trouble late in the first half against Rutgers, as did Connor McCaffery who played 36 minutes against Indiana (32 against Rutgers). Playing that many minutes consecutively isn't an ideal scenario, but Iowa's frontcourt depth is a concern right now with Patrick McCaffery's leave of absence and an injury to backup center Josh Ogundele.

"I think your concern is 'does it affect him over time,'" Fran McCaffery said. "With (center Josh Ogundele) out, we don't have a lot of options there. I've considered playing Riley and will continue to do so moving forward, he's been much better in practice. I did play Carter Kingsbury for a few minutes and he's shown he's capable."

Rebraca pointed to the importance of the scouting report as a way to stay on the court. He noted that if he and his teammates can recognize opposing plays quickly, they can get to their spots in enough time to play solid defense without fouling. Rebraca fouled out against Indiana and said he made some mistakes recognizing things too late.

"Dickinson is a really good player and you can't give him any angles," Rebraca said. "And what's really hard is he's going to find those angles. You just have to limit it. He's a tough, physical player with amazing touch at that size."

Defending aside, it's critical that Iowa continues its success rebounding the basketball. The Hawkeyes outrebounded Indiana (+5) and Rutgers (+2) in their recent wins. Rebounding was an issue last season, but Iowa's made strides recently. Right now the team ranks third in the Big Ten in total rebounds per game (39.3) and is seventh in rebounding margin (2.9).

More:It looks like Payton Sandfort's slump is over. That adds another dimension to Iowa basketball

"I feel like everyone has just been locked into boxing out a guy," Rebraca said. "I feel like last year we had a stretch where we really had problems with rebounding. But this year I feel like we understand that even if you're a smaller guy, shorter or a few pounds less if you really put an effort concerted effort to do something, you can."

And there's good news for Iowa's frontcourt entering Thursday's game. Fran McCaffery said that Connor McCaffery is "doing fine" after suffering an elbow to the head against Rutgers and will play against Michigan.

McCaffery comments on Big Ten officiating

A developing storyline throughout the Big Ten is growing displeasure with officiating by head coaches. Indiana's Mike Woodson continues to be critical of the referees for not ejecting Fran McCaffery during last Thursday's game when Iowa's coach crossed half court during a brief scuffle between the teams; Fran McCaffery has not been disciplined. Elsewhere, Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry voiced frustrations with officials over the weekend after a loss to Purdue.

McCaffery offered his own perspective on Wednesday. He said officiating has not been a topic within his program but voiced that he's been content with Big Ten officials.

"Those conversations (with the Big Ten) are ongoing," McCaffery said. You're going to have a conversation with oursupervisor of officials. That's his responsibility. Terry (Wymer) does a terrific job of that... But there's a lot at stake, and there's a lot going on. When you're in a league with so many good players and so many of these games are coming down to the wire, there has to be more discussion. There's blowouts, nobody ever talks about the officiating. But they're not. So somebody is upset about something, and he's the one who hears about it.

But his job is only one thing, and that is to provide quality officials, the best in the business, and make sure they're up to the standard that's been set by the Big Ten, and I think he's done that. We've got the best officials out there. You can complain if you want to, but you're not going to get anybody that's any better because we're getting the best as it is."