It’s not that Gophers coach Tubby Smith uses his bench so much more than other coaches in this league – he doesn’t. Instead, it’s how he uses it, and what he gets in return. He splits up the minutes between five, six or seven guys, plays them all together, and then often receives little out of them in terms of offensive production.
This wasn’t such a big problem in the non-conference schedule; in fact the Gophers’ bench made a pretty strong contribution.
But now, against better competition, the bench predicament is getting greatly exposed.
After crunching the league stats of the Gophers’ and Saturday's opponent, Wisconsin, here’s what I found.
In Big Ten play, the Badgers’ bench has played 23 percent of available minutes, while producing 27 percent of the offense. That’s an efficient use. Not only are the starters getting rest, but the reserves are positively affecting the game.
Meanwhile, the Gophers’ reserves have occupied a slightly greater 24 percent of available minutes – but have managed just 13 percent of the offense.
Compare that with the non-conference schedule, when Smith donated a whopping 37 percent of minutes to his bench, but they produced 35 percent of the scoring (while also getting Trevor Mbakwe off the bench during that time). That's much more equal than it is currently.
Is the solution to play the bench less? Experiment with different lineups with the reserve corps? Smith has pointed to fatigue as a problem with the team against up-tempo teams, but Rodney Williams says the starting group is conditioned enough to play the entire game if they need to.
“We worked hard this summer, we worked hard this preseason, so we’re ready for any kind of situation,” he said. “There may be a few games where certain guys play the whole game and won’t be able to come out.”
That might be an extreme scenario, but certainly some adjustment needs to be made if the Gophers wan to become competitive again.
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