Ethan Happ grabbed his 1,000th career rebound last month, and the senior center on the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team is on pace to finish near the top of the Big Ten’s all-time list in that category.
But Happ isn’t even the most prolific rebounder in the conference right now.
That would be Minnesota senior forward Jordan Murphy, who comes to town for a Big Ten game on Thursday night.
One thing is for certain when Murphy and Golden Gophers (11-2, 1-1 Big Ten) take on Happ and the No. 22 Badgers (10-3, 2-0) at the Kohl Center: 50/50 balls around the rim should be entertaining.
Murphy has 1,074 career rebounds, which puts him eighth all-time among Big Ten players. Happ is 15th on that list with 1,014.
Barring injury or a major dropoff in production, Murphy and Happ will finish second and third, respectively, in that category.
Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas had 1,411 rebounds in only three seasons from 1960-62, a mark that seems out of reach. Murphy would have to keep up his current pace — 12.6 rebounds per game — and play the maximum 40 games to move past Lucas.
But Murphy and Happ should both pass the No. 2 player on that list, Purdue’s Joe Barry Carroll (1,148 from 1977-80), with relative ease.
Murphy has 54 career double-doubles, 13 more than Happ. But Happ has done much better in four head-to-head meetings, averaging 14.8 points and 9.8 rebounds compared to 10.3 points and 5.5 rebounds for Murphy.
UW has won all four of those games, part of an eight-game winning streak overall against the Gophers.
“I think on the scouting report he’s 6-7, 250 (pounds), so for him to be able to pull down a bunch of rebounds against the trees that we play in the Big Ten is very impressive,” Happ said this week. “Not only that, but he’s got a very good second jump and a lot of them, he’ll be able to read where his miss is coming from and be able to react to that and get his own miss and put it back in.”
Keeping Murphy and freshman center Daniel Oturu off the offensive glass will be a huge key for the Badgers. They combine for 7.2 offensive rebounds per game, and Minnesota ranks 10th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage.
All five Minnesota starters average in double figures. It’ll be interesting to see what UW player matches up with Gophers junior Amir Coffey, who has taken on more of a ball-handling role this season in part because Minnesota has a severe lack of depth at point guard.
Coffey is second on the team in scoring (15.1 ppg) and adds 3.2 assists per game. UW senior forward Khalil Iverson seems like the logical choice to put on Coffey, with Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice dealing with the backcourt pairing of Gabe Kalscheur and Dupree McBrayer. Either way, Trice is giving up a lot of size.
“Amir Coffey on the ball is a handful,” UW assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft said. “He’s added things to his game that he didn’t have a year ago as far as decision-making and ball-handling. He’s tough to guard. And he’s 6-8 and he’s explosive.
“We’ve got to be great at all levels guarding them, on the ball, in ball-screen situations and then at the rim, Jordan Murphy is a handful. He’s a load. We’ve got to be ready to be physical and box out and own the paint.”
This won’t be the first time Minnesota assistant coach Rob Jeter sits on the opposing bench at the Kohl Center. Jeter spent 11 seasons as the head coach at UW-Milwaukee, which followed a four-year stint on Bo Ryan’s staff in Madison.
But this trip will be a little different because it’s Jeter’s first as an assistant at a Big Ten rival. He was hired by Gophers coach Richard Pitino after two seasons on UNLV’s staff.
Jeter caught Pitino’s eye during the 2015-16 season when UW-Milwaukee came to Williams Arena and beat the Gophers 74-65. A few months later, Jeter was fired after a 20-13 season and Pitino put in a good word for Jeter with UNLV coach Marvin Menzies.
“He came in and beat us, so I had respect for him there,” Pitino said at Big Ten Media Day in October. “And then what happened was, Marvin Menzies, who’s a good friend of ours, he needed to hire somebody and I called him and said, ‘Listen, I don’t know what you’re looking for, because so much of staff is what you need to complement the other people. But Rob Jeter has really impressed me as a head coach, if you’re looking for that type of a guy, that type of a coach, he’s your guy.’ ”
A year later, following the 2016-17 season, UW coach Greg Gard had an opening on his staff after Lamont Paris left to take over the Chattanooga program. Gard interviewed Jeter — their relationship spanned more than two decades, back to Ryan’s legendary run at UW-Platteville — but Dean Oliver ended up being Gard’s choice.
A year after that, Pitino had an opening on his staff and hired Jeter.
“He knows the Midwest, he knows the league, he’s a really good coach. So it was a no-brainer for me,” Pitino said.
“He’s won at this level. He understands how to do it. When you work for a guy like Bo Ryan, who’s a Hall of Famer, we’re always trying to learn from guys like that. So he’s got a wealth of knowledge and he’s made me better in his short time of being an assistant for me because he pushes me. He makes me think differently. Sometimes when you hire a younger guy, they may be a little bit apprehensive to tell you something. He’s got the confidence to do that and he should have that (confidence).”