Former Huskie Star Ready for Second Act in Burlington
The roster preview series has reached the presumed starting five. Let’s kick things off with their incoming big man grad transfer, Tomas Murphy. Officially listed at 6’8, Murphy provides the Cats with another much needed inside presence to help stabilize their frontcourt after losing Daniel Giddens and Anthony Lamb. The Wakefield, Rhode Island native comes from a long lineage of basketball greats before him and should be able to seamlessly transition into the Cats system without too many hiccups along the way.
Murphy joins the Cats after spending a hair over two years at Northeastern, where he averaged 7.3 points and 2.9 boards a game. Murphy’s points-per-game production increased every year, as he went from 6.6 to 8.1 and finally 9.1 before an ankle injury sidelined him and ultimately cut his tenure as a Huskie short. Vermont has yet to confirm, though it’s presumed that the NCAA will grant Murphy a full two years of eligibility. The combination of Murphy and rising star forward Ryan Davis should be able to create quite the one-two punch for the Catamounts and terrorize the likes of America East opponents for the next two years.
Vermont has managed quite well in the transfer market in recent years, as Murphy now joins the likes of past big men transfers such as Payton Henson, Sam Dingba and Daniel Giddens. Henson was a key component during the Cats record-breaking 29-6 season and while Dingba and Giddens were a bit more one-dimensional, they both provided exceptional energy and were stalwarts defensively during their time. Murphy’s game appears much more technical and savvy than his predecessors, as his robust basketball IQ gives him a formidable edge over his opponents.
During his tenure at Northeastern, Murphy primarily operated as a key cog for the Huskies off the bench, however the big man would start every game of his abbreviated junior campaign (4), as he looked poised to broaden his role. The aforementioned ankle injury ultimately ended Murphy’s season before it even began. Now he’ll look to rebound in a big way for a Vermont team that has won three of the last four America East Tournament Championships. Will Murphy etch his name alongside the other Catamount transfer success stories?
How Murphy can Make an Impact
Similar to the other new Catamount faces, Murphy’s impact on the team moving forward was already discussed, but let’s dive back in and see if we can pinpoint and distinguish any specific areas. Despite being utilized more so off the bench during his time at Northeastern, Murphy is currently projected to start for the Catamounts this year, joining former America East Sixthman of the Year winner, Ryan Davis in the frontcourt. If the tandem of Davis and Murphy can stay healthy, they should be able to form one of the better frontcourt duos in the America East for the next two years.
Since Murphy’s junior campaign was cut short, the most relevant tape of the big man comes from his sophomore season. Even from this slightly outdated footage, it’s clear to see how Murphy will be doing most of his damage. The big man operates best as a low-post scorer from inside the paint, as he excels in that traditional back-to-the-basket power forward role. Murphy might not be much of a bruiser down low, as he prefers to beat his opponents tactically with his exceptional footwork and astute post moves. Playing great defense, yet still getting beat underneath the basket can be utterly demoralizing for a defender and that’s exactly what Murphy will do to you.
Murphy’s skill set perfectly meshes with that of frontcourt running mate, Ryan Davis. While Davis possesses a strong post game himself, he’s shown an affection for drifting out beyond the arc to knock down a three. Expect to see Davis really come into his own from deep this year. Offensively the duo compliments each other very well, as they create yet another wrinkle for opposing teams to worry about. However, Murphy’s greatest impact might be what he’s able to teach his fellow teammates.
The Murphy basketball family tree is incredibly impressive, as Tomas was seemingly born to play the sport. His father, Jay, played professionally both for the NBA and overseas. His mother, Pavi, played professionally for Sweden and his brothers Erik and Alex both played for high major division one programs (Duke and Florida). With that type of lineage, basketball is integrated in the Murphy jeans. Tomas might already be the most technically savvy player on the Cats roster. His depth and knowledge of the game should be a huge asset for some of the younger players, as they can learn to read and react to his plethora of moves.
Room for Improvement?
From a technical standpoint Murphy is refined as they come, but there’s still plenty of areas where the big man can improve upon. One particular facet of his game that could use a boost would be his rebounding. Granted, as just mentioned Murphy isn’t the mold of the overpowering bruising big man such as former Catamount Daniel Giddens, but he still should be able to average more than a measly 2.9 boards a game career average. Even during his abbreviated junior campaign, Murphy averaged 29 minutes a game, but could still only muster a 2.8 rebounding average.
One possible solution could be adding more weight. While Murphy isn’t lanky by any means, he’s not exactly the biggest guy either. Bulking up could help with boxing out and winning those 50/50 balls, but it could also be a double-edged sword. As someone who’s game relies on his technical abilities, more weight could disrupt his form and timing. Should Murphy go this route, he’ll have to tread lightly at first, as he gauges how the new muscle affects his shooting. Rebounding as a whole for the Cats could be an issue next year as they’re losing a trio of phenomenal board-men in Giddens, Lamb and even Everett Duncan.
Another key spot for Murphy to focus on is his three-point shooting. Now, this isn’t in the sense that he’s a bad shooter from beyond the arc – more so that he actually doesn’t take enough threes. During Murphy’s career, he’s 17-44 (39%) from deep. In comparison, UVM’s big man Davis is 25-91 (28%) from long-range. Davis’s percentage is pretty good by all accounts and if Murphy shot the three-ball more often he’d likely be closer to Davis’s level, so what’s stopping him? Murphy does prefer to favor the post more than any other option, as it presents the highest likelihood of scoring, but the Cat’s offense dictates plenty of ball reversals and movement. If Murphy finds himself with an open look from behind the arc he can’t hesitate. His shooting percentage might take a hit, but those are the shots that the Cats depend on.
This might be somewhat contentious as an area to improve upon, but the lingering question in every Catamount fans mind is how that ankle will hold up throughout the season. After four games with a 29 minutes per game average, that aforementioned ankle injury wiped out Murphy’s entire junior campaign. As a presumed starter, can the Cats count on Murphy being able to handle these extended minutes on a nightly basis? It also doesn’t bode well that numerous Catamounts have succumbed to injury in years past – meaning that Murphy’s conditioning is going to have to be top-notch. All signs indicate that the ankle is fine and that there shouldn’t be any lingering issues with it, though ideally the coaching staff will have a plan not just for Murphy, but the entire team in order to keep them fresh and rested throughout the season.
There are a few individual goals that should come to mind for Murphy. One that was just previously mentioned would be his ability to pull down more boards. Those four games during the 2019-20 campaign really aren’t an adequate sample size to determine if the 2.8 rpg average would’ve held up. Regardless, 2.8 boards a game for a big man averaging 29 minutes a contest is very weak. Murphy saw a jump from 2.4 to 3.4 rpg from his freshman to sophomore season, meaning the development and progression are there. 4.4 boards a game isn’t great, but it’s a positive step in building that ability to win around the glass. Hopefully John Becker and the rest of the coaching staff can identify and work with Murphy, as the Cats will be losing 14.4 rebounds a game with the departure of Lamb, Giddens and Duncan this year.
Arguably the most important goal for Murphy that’s both an individual goal and team goal will be staying healthy throughout the season. Before last year, Murphy had played in 30+ (33 & 31) games each season and was a model of consistency. While the official length of this year’s season is still up in the air, the Cats are likely looking at making another deep run and getting back to the NCAA tournament. Murphy’s ankle and entire body needs to be ready to handle the workload that’s going to be asked of him. The Cats might be the deepest team in the America East, but outside of Murphy and Davis their frontcourt is largely unproven at this point. The Catamounts success might ultimately come down to the health and condition of their frontcourt.
As a freshman, Murphy made an immediate impact for the Huskies and was twice named the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) rookie of the week, as well as earning a spot on the CAA All-Rookie Team (2018). If Murphy can return to form, he should have a great chance at earning a spot on one of the America East teams come award season time. There was an enormous amount of hype around the two big men transfers for the Cats last year in Giddens and Duncan Demuth. While neither were able to set the world on fire, they had their moments and both flashed at times. Ideally Murphy won’t get caught up in the fanfare hype or feel overwhelmed if he doesn’t hit his marks straight out of the gate. Playing in control and letting the game come to him has been his MO previously and should once again hold true.
We’re still a few months away from the start of the season (if there is a season), but as of this moment I’m anointing Murphy as the starting PF/C. Could this change? Absolutely. Maybe Demuth or Isaiah Powell are given the first crack due to their previous experience. Maybe freshman Georges Lefebvre is further ahead in his development and the coaching staff views him as their next star. Who knows.
While those scenarios seem unlikely, just remember that anything is possible. Realistically you should expect to see Murphy alongside Davis come opening tip, as on paper he gives the Cats the best option to replace some of Lambs production in the post. The only wildcard would be the status of his ankle. There’s no doubt the coaching staff has already done their due diligence in regards to Murphy’s health, but should there be any lingering side effects they’ll have to decide if it’s worth the risk of playing Murphy 25+ minutes a game.
Nonetheless, Murphy’s addition to the Cats roster should be a fruitful one for both parties. Vermont gets a highly skilled post player who should be able to help bridge the gap from the Lamb era, while Murphy gets the chance of finishing out his career on one of the best mid-major programs and a chance of competing in the NCAA Tournament. Oftentimes transfers can struggle initially, but without putting too much expectations on the former Huskie big man, Murphy should be able to manage just fine. His style of play is well suited with John Becker’s philosophy and should be a real problem in the America East for the next two years.
2020-21 Statistical Predictions
- 23.2 minutes per game
- 8.5 points per game
- 4.3 rebounds per game
- 1.1 assists per game