Starting lineups clearly make or break basketball teams, but the bench presents a necessary spark throughout parts of a game.
If you pan through the college basketball elite, the majority of teams have a short rotation. At most, these schools rely on specific duties for the bench. Programs hope for these four: a long-range shooter, a backup point-guard, a bruiser of a big man, and an individual of premier athleticism.
Teams like Indiana and Michigan follow this model, but Minnesota does not. The Gophers utilize a combination of seven bench players frequently, and it has disrupted the flow of the offense. This causes momentum to change quickly and force starters to bolt back into the game before they regain stamina.
Last week’s slate of game for Tubby Smith etched the problem in greater detail.
In a combined 31 minutes of action last Wednesday at Illinois, the Minnesota bench proved to be nonexistent. This was a unit of six players that combined had six turnovers.
But it did not stop there for the Gopher bench.
Besides two three-pointers by Maverick Ahanmisi during the late comeback at Indiana on Saturday, the bench was nonexistent once again.
Heading into the season, the Gophers were viewed as a deep group with a range of specialty players coming off the bench.
That has not been the case. The bench, especially Elliott Eliason and Oto Osenieks have disappointed over the course of the season. Luckily, the starting rotation is stout, and there is no reason to change the starting five. Still, the coaching staff needs to cut down the rotation substantially. If a player is a basic facilitator, it’s nice for non-conference games, but there’s no reason why a man with few attributes should steal minutes in the Big Ten from proven starters.
The senior is probably the best player in the entire second unit. He is a combo guard and plays with authority. The coaching staff nabbed Welch out of junior college because of his ability to score.
His shooting percentage has dropped considerably this season, but he continues to keep the ball with the offense. Welch is also an underrated defender, averaging almost a steal a game.
He deserves the minutes that he has been getting. His shooting will improve but he will need to able to step-up and score coming off the bench if no one else is.
When Californian Ahanmisi was added to the recruiting class in 2010, there was no plan to really play him. But with injuries and transfers to point guards in previous seasons, Ahanmisi has gotten steady minutes.
He should have never been a starter in the Big Ten, but he has been a surprise boost to the offense. The point guard has been unreliable with the ball from time to time, but he makes up for his lapses with an excellent three-point shooting and free throw percentage. Ahanmisi gets minutes in crunch time for the Gophers because he knocks down more than 80 percent of his free throws.
The true freshman has been effective given his limited minutes. Ellenson has only played 25 minutes in three games due to injury and rotational issues, but has proven his athleticism and his ability to score.
He has game similar to Austin Hollins. The freshman has a great wing-span, can shoot from a long range, and can defend the wing at a premier level.
This is a player that needs more playing time. Ellenson could be a starting forward for the team next season. He is listed as a shooting guard, but he has the ability to play like a power forward. Against Northwestern, he received an alley-oop pass from Maurice Walker and threw it down with authority.
In limited minutes, he has shown his length and agility. When Hollins graduates next season, Ellenson will transition to his role. Until then, the freshman should still eat minutes in the second unit.
With the current two starting big men graduating after this season, the coaching staff is desperately looking for bodies for next season. This is the main reason why the big man from Nebraska is playing.
The minutes for Eliason have dropped down considerably since he began the season in the starting rotation. The center barely has an offensive game and is only useful as an extra big man against opponents. He averages the least amount of points for scholarship players, but has played more minutes than most. The only way that Eliason gets touches on offense is through rebounds. He has not been able to shoot (37.9 percent), even though he rarely plays 10 feet from the basket.
Unless another big man steps up, Eliason will likely be a starter next season.
In 15 games this season, Walker has been the second most efficient player — only behind Andre Hollins.
Walker does not pass the eye test though. He continues to look out of shape for Minnesota and has not played huge minutes. The numbers say he can rebound and shoot, but the Gophers have not seen it.
He has the talent to be a starting center in the Big Ten, but the Canadian needs to work on his conditioning.
Andre Ingram is a J-college transfer and a senior averaging just over two points a game.
There is nothing that the Gophers will miss from Ingram. Seen as an extra big man, he has been only that for Minnesota.
Since he is graduating, there are not very many reasons to play him. He has been stealing minutes from Walker and other forwards. It’s time to stick Ingram to the end of the bench.
The man from Latvia was a late addition to the 2010 recruiting class because of his ability to shoot three-pointers. Besides his shooting abilities, there were no other attributes with Osenieks. This season, he has shown that even his shooting ability is doubtful.
He has made only two of 20 three-pointers this season, yet has made 15 of his other 30 shots. The sophomore is still getting almost 10 minutes a game, but he is unable to rebound. He ranks last among Minnesota forwards in rebounding percentages and Osenieks also heralds the worst effective shooting percentage on the roster.
If there is any cut to the rotation, the cord starts at Osenieks.