There are 358 men’s Division I college basketball teams that played last season. Of those, Wisconsin was No. 315 in the country in terms of bench minutes played. This was something that was discussed throughout the season as there were a lot of games, for example in Big Ten . Championship against Michigan State Where the bench is combined for 40 minutes of playing time and one (1) point, the reserve did not provide much, if any, in the event of an attack.
That’s not to say there have been no matches to shine on the bench, Chris Vogt has had two games where he single-handedly changed the game with his card, rebounds and second chance points, but these were the exception rather than the rule.
Recently, Jordan Sperber’s excellent college basketball newsletter Hope Vision took a dip in “Does the bench matter in March?” (It’s a paid newsletter, but this one is free) And it got me thinking about using the Wisconsin bench. Sperber notes how the best teams use the bench less than you might think:
If we think about the top teams in the country this season, 16 teams finished the season with a kenpom average efficiency margin of better than 20 points.
Among those 16 teams, The four with less bench minutes They were the last four teams left to play in New Orleans.
Each of the four national semi-finalists are seeded near the bottom of the entire country in bench minutes. collapse:
UNC – 348th position (out of 358)
Villanova – 320
Duke – 314
Yes, it is extreme – but not necessarily unprecedented.
Now there are a few factors that explain why this happens. One of them, which the HV publication notes, is the outcome of the game. In a close match, coaches are more likely to play their best players, and usually the team’s best players are also the starters. This makes sense! Looking at the margin of victory last year, Wisconsin averaged +4 scoring margin for the entire seasonwhose margin was ranked No. 87. Team #179 (middle point out of a total of 358 teams) in the country had a scoring average of -0.1, so the Badgers were above average in this stat.
The teams in Final Four had an average scoring margin of +12.3 (No. 8, Duke), +11 (No. 13, KS), +9 (No. 23, Villanova) and +6.6 (No. 46, NC) so it seems That teams didn’t use their seats as often despite winning their games with more points than Wisconsin.
The Hoop Vision post also mentions that teams play off the bench early in the season as tournaments are decided, but that didn’t really track for the Badgers. Outside of Vogt, they have not had a consistent bench player all season. Some of that can be traced, however, to things beyond Greg Gard’s control. Backup guards Jahcobi Neath and Lorne Bowman lost time due to injuries and personal matters respectively, for example.
As for the other bench players, Ben Carlson was in a whirlwind of allotted minutes and you never knew if he’d play 20+ or two in a particular game. Maybe that’s part of the reason why he’s moved on although his role, most likely, would have been decided more on next season? Carter Gilmore, Jordan Davis and Marcus Elver flashed briefly but none were ready/able to contribute meaningful reserve minutes all season.
A lot of times you’d expect the coach to not play his support much because the beginners are very good and play really well, which is probably the case for a team like the Duke, KS, UNC or Villanova. You can see that in their larger-than-life average margins than Wisconsin, for example. But, I think last season Jared had to play in the beginning a lot because he didn’t really have a lot of other proven options.
Even if Brad Davison or Johnny Davis had a bad match, who would they turn to? Unfortunately, I don’t know if there is any conclusion that can be drawn from this information other than the conclusion of Hoop Vision, which is: “Get really good starters.” Sure, it’s great to have a good sixth man, but wouldn’t it be better if he was good enough to start?
As always it all comes down to recruiting and obviously having better players on the squad will help the team be better, but you can’t rule out what Jared did with last year’s team who didn’t have a lot of top-rated talent. He. She. Wisconsin has won the Big Ten, has done so twice in the past three seasons, and at some point the narrative on Jared as coach may have to change. Because it looks so good if he wins conference titles without the best players in said conference.