Erik Murphy was perfect—literally—on a night when his teammates were anything but with the basketball.
Murphy hit all 10 of shots from the floor and the Gators, despite committing 20 turnovers, put on an offensive clinic, as Florida blitzed Wisconsin, 74-56, at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center. In a game that was supposed to take on a methodical, defensive-minded tenor, fans in Gainesville were treated to an entertaining pace dictated by the run-n-gun home team.
They’ll be treated to a Final Four caliber team too if the Murphy that showed up tonight is here to stay.
This is a game Florida doesn’t win—at least not in the manner it did—with last year’s Erik Murphy. Not with the way Kenny Boynton shot, Patric Young failed to assert himself on offense and the team carelessly handled the basketball. Wednesday’s convincing win over pesky Wisconsin was all about No. 33 in white.
One of the most underrated role players in college hoops last season, Murphy has the look of a senior ready to embrace an expanded role in 2012-13. Erving Walker is no longer around to hoist ten shots a game and abandon the post-entry feed altogether. Bradley Beal’s mandatory 15 touches per game are out of the equation as well.
The upshot: more opportunity for Mr. Murphy, who seems eager to capitalize. Patric Young will have more games like he did tonight, when the post defense is too stiff and Young isn’t in the mood to work for his points. And there are more off-shooting nights in Kenny Boynton’s future.
Florida can offset those inevitabilities in a way it couldn’t, or at least didn’t last year: a heavy dose of Murphy. With an improved back-to-the-basket game that now includes a reliable left-handed touch, Murphy has the offensive repertoire to be a consistent weapon in the half-court. He already owns the best 3-point shot for an interior player in the SEC, and his lethal combination of a perimeter shot and a refined post game makes him the toughest assignment for an opposing big man in the league.
Murphy can stretch out bigger, less mobile defenders on the perimeter, opening the paint for Young and Will Yeguete. He can back down thinner, rangier defenders, meanwhile, and either finish himself or kick out to open shooters on the perimeter.
Erik Murphy is no Doug McDermott, but he presents similar matchup problems for other teams. And with the bruisers Florida already has down low with Young and Yeguete, the Murphy that starred tonight could unlock the most dynamic frontcourt trio in college hoops.
The Gators will be strong with or without a dominant Murphy. But their bite could become deadly if the go-to scorer and rising leader they saw tonight sticks around for the next 30+ games.