Junior guard Nate Mason has been the consistent offensive leader for Minnesota all season, but it might be someone else who is the true key factor to success for the Golden Gophers — sophomore forward Jordan Murphy.
Minnesota (20-7, 8-6) extended its winning streak to five games on Sunday night with a thrilling overtime victory over Michigan. The win puts the Golden Gophers in great shape to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time under head coach Richard Pitino. Minnesota is playing its best ball when it really matters and a lot of thanks goes to Murphy, who’s been dominant as of late.
Murphy has been solid all season, averaging 10.7 points per game and a team-high 8.5 rebounds per game, but he’s been on a tear during the Gopher’s winning streak. The 6-foot-6-inch forward has a double-double in each of his last four games, averaging 18 points per game and 15 rebounds per game during this four game stretch. To put that into context he had only five double-doubles this year prior to his recent hot streak, so it’s safe to say Murphy is playing his best ball right now. And when Murphy plays well, Minnesota wins.
The Golden Gophers are 13-2 whenever Murphy scores 10 or more points in a game, with the only two losses coming to Michigan State on Dec. 27 and Maryland on Jan. 28. On the flip side of that, when Murphy struggles so does the Golden Gophers. During Minnesota’s five-game losing streak earlier this year Murphy averaged only 6.8 points per game and 4 rebounds per game.
Murphy’s strong play as of late has resulted in more minutes on the floor as well. He’s been on the floor for at least 30 minutes in each of the last four games, which is notable because he had only played 30-plus minutes six other times this year before this stretch.
All of these numbers add up to an overall better Minnesota team. With Murphy the Golden Gophers aren’t one-dimensional on the offensive end of the floor and are able to spread teams out. And defensively they are limiting teams to one chance offensively with Murphy’s strong rebounding ability.
Murphy is providing something Minnesota lacked earlier this year, and certainly during their five-game losing streak. And because of what he brings to the table I consider him the key factor to the Golden Gophers’ success moving forward. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he is this team’s most valuable player because that still belongs to Mason in my opinion, but I believe he is the most influential player on this team. The numbers prove it — if Murphy has a good game then Minnesota is going to win and if he doesn’t then there’s a good chance they lose.
Bottom line: if Murphy stays hot then Minnesota can be very dangerous down the stretch and into March. Mason is going to get his — 10 or more points in all but three games this year — and remains the top offensive threat for the Golden Gophers. But if Murphy can continue to improve, and remain a monster in the post and on the glass then Minnesota is a team to watch out for in the big dance.
Oh and let’s not forget he is only a sophomore so if he continues at the pace he’s going then we are looking at an All-Big Ten player next year. But for now let’s just sit back and see how the rest of this year plays out. I’m sure the Minnesota fans will be very happy with what they witness.