Gophers coach Tubby Smith has a problem:

If he doesn’t play his bench very much, he subjects a weaker group of players to fewer minutes on the court to get their bearings and make an impact.

If he plays his bench more, he risks them never making an impact anyway, failing to produce what the team needs, doing more damage in the meantime and losing the positivity created by the starters that are on the bench in the reserves’ places.

“The thing is, when we put them in, we want something positive to happen, and sometimes they don’t get as much time as they think they should to get into the game, so that’s something we need to take a look at,” Smith said. “But we do need more production from our bench.”

How does he balance the two to get more production (the reserves played 32 minutes and scored 0 points in a 62-59 victory over Iowa on Sunday without even attempting a shot as group)? That’s still an experiment in progress. Elliott Eliason (who did have six rebounds, two blocks and two steals) played 19 minutes. Julian Welch played six. And no one else played more than two.

“Looking back on it, I think fatigue was a big part of our problem, because we extended our defense a lot and I think it took a lot out of our starters,” Smith said in regards to Sunday’s game. “I just have to play them. There were plenty of opportunities, probably, to play them yesterday, and we didn’t and that’s my fault. So, we’ve got to figure out a way to do that.”

Other notes on today’s media teleconference:

  • Smith said Trevor Mbakwe’s hand is still sore, but is otherwise “fine.” Playing with one hand a lot is just “just a tendency he has,” he said.
  • On the Gophers’ 5-4 start in conference play: “No, I’m not pleased with where we are. I’m a little disappointed that we aren’t in the top echelon. Michigan beat us pretty good here, but I thought we really shot ourselves in the foot and Michigan here. We turned the ball over 15, 17 times, those things, and then the Northwestern loss, those are the losses where you go, ‘Hey, we’re better than this.’”
  • On Julian Welch, who has scored just two points in three games after notching 15 in the previous two: “He’s fine, he’s just having a tough time defending and taking care of the basketball. … When you go in the game, we can’t afford to have you play six minutes and turn the ball over two times. You just can’t play at that point in time, I can’t put you in the game.”
  • On the upcoming game at Michigan State, which the Gophers defeated in the Big Ten opener at Williams Arena: “We know they’re going to improve. Tom Izzo’s teams are always well-coached. Obviously at 7-2 in the league, they’re playing extremely well, always wanting to share the basketball. … They can play any style, that’s the thing about the Spartans – they can get the ball up and down the court or they can play a good half-court game and beat you at both. We had one of our better games against them here and we’ve got to have one of our better games against them there if we want to have a chance to compete.”

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