As impressive as freshman Jordan Murphy has been early in his basketball career at the University of Minnesota, he still talked on Tuesday about the difficulty in adjusting to the pace and physicality of the game at the Big Ten level.
That last observation will likely be compounded on Wednesday night against burly, towering Purdue.
“It’s probably the most physical team in the Big Ten,” Murphy said. “I’m expecting a big battle. A lot of body contact, a lot of just boxing out and trying to get rebounds. That’s the main focus.”
The Gophers used 6-10, 260-pound transfer center Reggie Lynch to simulate Purdue senior big man AJ Hammons in practice on Tuesday. But Hammons is one of just three walking tanks that will be thrown at Minnesota – with 7-2 sophomore Isaac Haas backing up at center and 6-9, 250-pound freshman Caleb Swanigan at power forward. And the Gophers, of course, will have to attack one of the biggest frontcourts in all of college basketball without Lynch, who is sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules.
As usual, Murphy, who plays bigger than his 6-6 height, will play a big role. Although Purdue is the biggest team Minnesota has faced this season, the freshman has come across several big 6-10-plus bodies in the Gophers first 20 games. Asked what the key to compensating for a height differential, Murphy said “Out-smarting and out-playing. It comes down to just who plays harder.”
It helps that although Murphy is much shorter than most traditional post players, he has great athleticism and a long wingspan that allow him to get comparable height on the boards and get hands on balls for blocks. One issue that could be a big concern again, given Purdue’s physicality, though, is Murphy’s season-long battle with foul trouble, particularly early.
If he can stay in the game, his expected matchup against Swanigan – the Big Ten’s leading rebounder – could be the first real test to show just how much he’s improved this season. Although Swanigan has gotten a lot more attention, the pair are nearly identical in production, with the Purdue first-year big hauling down 8.9 rebounds a game to go with 10.1 points while Murphy is collecting 8.2 rebounds to go with 10.7 points. Of course, Swanigan works next to Hammons, who is grabbing 7.7 rebounds a game while Murphy has no other teammate really competing for boards. Swanigan is also averaging 8.4 rebounds in conferencce play to Murphy's 7.3.
“As a rebounder, he’s just a big body,” Murphy said of his counterpart. “He knows how to get in front of people on the offensive end, just knows how to box people out on the defensive end.”