Murphy Elevating His Play for NCAA Tournament

The wild card for the Florida offense this season has always been Erik Murphy. When he is confident and the three-point shots are falling, it makes the No. 22 Gators become that much tougher to stop. The junior's presence from behind the three-point line is a big part of the new look Florida attack. Murphy stretches opposing defenses and helps create one-on-one opportunities for the guards.

Murphy spaces things. The design of the Florida offense without Will Yeguete's rebounding ability is to be up-tempo. Florida head coach Billy Donovan's design is for the team to spread the floor and allow the guards to penetrate into the paint. When that happens, Murphy and the guards on the perimeter are designed to keep the defense on the edge.

It's a role that Murphy has become accustomed to in his Florida career.

"I think with my ability to shoot the ball, we can spread the floor real well," Erik Murphy said. "I open some things inside for Pat, and once Pat gets going, it opens up things outside for everybody else. We compliment each other pretty well."

Murphy's success on the perimeter has helped the Florida offense this year. In games where Florida scores 74 points or more, Murphy is 28-58 (48.3%). When the Florida offense scores 73 points or less, Murphy is shooting 24-59 (40.7%). The Gators are 5-2 this year when Murphy hits at least three shots from deep.

Florida gets a boost from Murphy when the outside shots are falling. Without Yeguete, Murphy has played increased minutes at center when the Gators playing with four guards. That gives the Florida offense a look that Donovan likes—five players on the floor that can shoot the three.

"He stretches the defense," Donovan said. "His shots a lot of times are coming from decisions. Erik is not a shot-creator for himself. He has gotten better at catching it, maybe shot-faking and putting the ball on the floor for a couple of dribbles and driving it to the basket. He has done a little bit more of that as the season has gone on.

"But really, he is a recipient of our backcourt players coming off a screen and popping back, or Patric is rolling to the basket and he's rolling back in behind him. He is a guy that relies on the floor being moved and spaced and our guards making decisions to find him when he's open."

The junior has also become a more trusted part of the offense from inside the three-point line during conference play. He isn't a power player when he gets the ball in the paint, but he's crafty and finds ways to get his shot.

In non-conference play, 57% of the shots Murphy took came from behind the three-point line. Against SEC opponents, 50.7% of the shots have been for three.

He is becoming more comfortable around the basket. He doesn't have elite jumping ability, but Murphy knows how to use his body to create space and make shots in the paint.

In his first two years, he showed signs of the player he has become. The consistency is starting to improve, as Murphy is playing his best heading into the NCAA Tournament. He scored 15 points against Alabama and 24 points against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, earning him a spot on the All-Tournament Team.

"He can be huge for us, just like he was against Kentucky," Florida guard Erving Walker said. "He's a matchup problem because he's tall. If they try to switch and put a guard on him, (Murphy) can just shoot over him because he's tall. It's tough for a big guy to come and stay out on the perimeter like Murph plays.

"He has improved so much. He has always had it in him, but he's just playing with confidence now."

Murphy won't ever be a lockdown defender. He won't ever average double-digit rebounds.

However, there is room for improvement in both areas. Murphy is averaging 4.2 rebounds this season with a season high of eight that came against Kentucky, Rutgers and Mississippi Valley State.

It's not from a lack of chances. Murphy hasn't been able to secure rebound opportunities that have come his way.

"I think Erik gets his hands on a lot of balls," Donovan said. "He needs to grab them, he needs to come down with them – that would be helpful."


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