After the departure of last year’s three key front-court players, Chandler Parsons, Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin, the Gators started this season knowing they would need a big effort from the big men who were returning.
Coming into the season, much of the focus surrounded on how Patric Young would adapt to becoming the only real formidable presence inside for the team and the status of Erik Murphy’s offseason arrest.
Through three games, Murphy’s level of play is helping to cloud his offseason troubles and focus on his performance inside for the Gators instead.
After averaging just over 10 minutes per game last season, Murphy has more than doubled his playing time so far this season, averaging almost 21 minutes of action per game. This increase in minutes has led to more shots from Murphy, something that may have caught opposing teams off-guard.
“I’ve been shooting the ball pretty well from three,” Murphy said. “I shot last year whenever I could. Just in extended minutes this year, I think, getting more shots, people might be a little bit surprised.”
Early in the season, Murphy has been actively involved in the offense. Multiple times against Ohio State he was able to run a pick-and-pop with whichever guard was on the floor.
This unique version of the traditional pick-and-roll has Murphy setting a quick screen and stepping back to behind the three-point line. Especially against Ohio State, Murphy was able to use this to get space for his shots.
Known as a particularly good set-shooter, the added space is vital for Murphy. So far on the season, Murphy has connected on six of his 11 points from behind the three-point line.
His shooting ability is something that provides an additional challenge for defenses.
“It spreads the floor, especially with Pat being down low,” Murphy said. “That helps me a lot too. Pat being down low, they have to collapse on him, so that opens stuff up for me.”
The biggest challenge for Murphy is continuing to be as much a force inside as he has become outside. At 6-10, he is responsible for helping Young clear the boards on defense, something that head coach Billy Donovan knows this team has to get better at.
“Our guys have proven that we can rebound the ball,” Donovan said. “But it still has got to be a focus, because we are just not a naturally gifted rebounding team. It has to be something that we are really focused on collectively as a group.”
After being overpowered in the paint at times last season, Murphy made it a point to gain more weight in the offseason. The extra weight is something he feels has given him an advantage this time around.
“I feel a lot stronger—not getting pushed around as much as I used to,” Murphy said. “I think it will definitely, especially throughout the season toward the end, help.”
Through three games, Murphy is averaging just fewer than four rebounds per game, while also having a career-high three blocks in the Gators’ opener against Jackson State.
Still, he feels as if he can do more inside for the team. While Murphy has had his hands around a lot of rebounds during games, he feels the key to actually pulling down the rebounds is more movement.
“I think to chase balls more, not try to reach for them, by moving my feet,” Murphy said. “That will help me a lot.”
His next chance to improve comes Monday, as the Gators travel to Tampa to play Wright State. For Murphy, although it is a long ride to play, it is one he appreciates.
“I don’t mind it at all,” he said. “I actually have some friends in Tampa that are coming to the game that I haven’t seen in a long time, so that will be nice.”
The site of the game, the St. Pete Times Forum, is one that is especially important for Murphy. In addition to hitting an important three-pointer in last year’s NCAA Tournament against UCLA in the building, it is also one he has grown up visiting.
“I like the St. Pete Times Forum. I was there when I was little for the ACC Tournament,” Murphy said. “I have always liked that arena, so it is nice to go back there.”
With the backcourt talent this team has, along with the improving play of Patric Young, the key to another NCAA Tournament run will be the contributions of its role players, starting with Erik Murphy.