Interestingly enough, the Butler did it again. The Butler in this case came from Indianapolis in the form of the Butler Bulldogs. On March 19th, 2015, Butler beat the Texas Longhorns in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. This put the nail in Rick Barnes’s coffin in Austin and he was fired shortly afterwards. Texas, being the very self-assured athletic program that it is, sought some of the hottest names on the market. They came away with a coach who, at the time, most programs could merely dream of landing. A coach by the name of Shaka Smart. Smart left behind the program he once took to the Final Four: the VCU Rams. This led to many commits at VCU being released from their letters of intent. One such commit was a 6’ 6” (listed at 6’ 7” but come on now...) forward from San Antonio, Texas. His name was Jordan Murphy.
The Rams’ loss was Minnesota’s gain. Coach Richard Pitino secured his commitment on May 18, 2015 and the rest has been a fruitful four-year career at the University of Minnesota. Some of the counting stats in regards to the forward from Texas are astounding. Murphy will finish his career as the all-time program leader in rebounds (he’s currently 26th and climbing in NCAA history) and double-doubles. His 17 double-doubles to start the season in 2017-2018 tied an NCAA record set by soon-to-be NBA Hall of Famer Tim Duncan during his time at Wake Forest. He once posted an eye-popping 35 point, 15 rebound stat line in the first game of the 2017-2018 season. His defensive rebounding percentage has gone up every year and he currently stands at 8th in the entire country for the 2018-2019 season. He gets to the free throw line at a higher rate than anyone in the conference during conference play this season. He’s logged over 3670 minutes on the court as a Golden Gopher. His accolades are numerous
More importantly, Jordan has been an outstanding example of excellence off the court. During a tumultuous time for the program in the win column and in the news cycle his four years on campus, Jordan stood out as one never wrapped up in off-court drama. He has been endlessly complemented by the coaching staff throughout his tenure for his work ethic and tenacity as well as his commitment to the classroom.
Murphy will start his 116th game as a Golden Gopher this evening when Minnesota takes the court to play the first place Purdue Boilermakers in a do-or-die type game in regards to their qualifications for the 2019 NCAA Tournament. This in and of itself is an impressive mark. While some could argue that it doesn’t so much speak to his quality of play over that time and more towards the lack of quality across the roster, his durability should still be seen as an over-whelming positive. He has accomplished so much that mutters are beginning to manifest about retiring his number in the rafters of the Barn after his time here is officially past. And while it is always difficult to assess what qualifies as worthy of having your number retired by any entity, this brings to the forefront the crux of Jordan Murphy's legacy at Minnesota.
Unfortunately, while he was on the team attacking the boards with the tenacity of the Tasmanian Devil, the Golden Gophers didn’t win much.
Let’s assume the Gophers sneak into the NCAA Tournament this season and lose in the first round. That would give Murphy zero career NCAA Tournament wins, one Big Ten season above .500, an approximate 67-62 overall record, and an approximate 26-48 conference record. Individually speaking, he’d have one All-Big Ten Second team (media 2017-2018), one All-Big Ten Third team (coaches 2016-2017), and one All-Freshman team appearance (2016-2017) (for the sake of discussion this excludes what he might win this year but its very likely he’ll be at least Second team All-Big Ten by both coaches and media if not First team).
Now, basketball is a team game. While the roster size and the number of players on the court at any given time emphasize the effect one player can have more so in basketball than any of the other major sports, it still requires depth and quality at more than just one position to succeed, especially in a conference as annually deep and talented as the Big Ten. Murphy can’t possibly be held completely accountable for the lack of success during his tenure, especially when you consider the extenuating circumstances that struck several players on the roster in the form of suspensions, expulsions, and injuries.
And this is where it gets complicated.
No one will ever question Jordan Murphy’s work ethic or the ability to pull down a rebound. But the question remains: just how valuable was he really? His best finish in win shares per 40 minutes (according to College Basketball Reference) in the Big Ten conference is 13th, which is where he stands now during the current season. He was never really seen as a go-to scorer or shut down defender. While he performed admirably in the role when it was forced upon him during sparser times during the 2015-2016 and 2017-2018 seasons, its very likely he was never the most talented player on a Minnesota roster during any year of his Gopher career.
I don’t want to take away anything from Jordan Murphy. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching him go to work during the last four seasons and the fact that you could just pencil him in for a double-double (he has achieved this feat in 64 out of 115 career games) on any given night has brought much comfort to Gopher fans in an otherwise dry period of play. More than anything, this conversation saddens me. It was too bad Murphy could never be a supporting piece on a conference title contender because he would have been perfect as a complementary player to more skilled individuals (like those in the ilk of Amir Coffey).
The Gophers haven’t been a very good three-point shooting team in any year Jordan Murphy has been on the team. In fact, the highest they have ever ranked during Murphy’s career nationally in 3-point percentage is 192nd (highest in conference was 8th). Teams have been able to sag onto Murphy, at times with double-teams, for his entire career. The lane has never been a spacious place to work but Jordan has made the best of it with a variety of pumps, drop steps, and explosive dunks. If Minnesota had been able to just be average from 3-point land, who knows how many more points or rebounds Murphy could have racked up.
But, perhaps, this story isn’t fully written. The Gophers sit on the precipice of the qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. With strong performances in the final three-plus games of his Gopher career, Murphy could simultaneously continue to climb up the NCAA career list for rebounds and double-doubles and help Minnesota receive its second invitation to the Big Dance in the last six years. There is still much to play for and if I had to guess, a guy with a non-stop motor like Jordan Murphy isn’t going to go easy on Senior Night.
So while it’s hard to truly say where Jordan Murphy stands among the all-time Gopher greats, no one denies he has been a pleasure to watch. No one denies the tenacity at which he has attacked the boards for 4 years and 115+ games. No one denies how he has continued to perform at a high level despite the tumultuous nature of the team’s performance during his career.
It has been a joy to watch Jordan Murphy these last four years. I look forward to the last few times he will don the maroon and gold. And throughout these last few games, as he continues snatching rebounds as if he were a starving man and the ball a Christmas ham, I will consider myself fortunate to have witnessed the career of man who has achieved so much for a team that needed him and his effort more than than even he had the capacity for.