Where's The Bench?

The Cats may or may not have a bench this season. Early in the season it has become apparent that Lute Olson is not comfortable dipping too far into his reserves. While many are worried that the Cats are not deep enough to make a run come March, past history suggests otherwise.

Right now Olson has settled on a seven-man rotation. Only guard Daniel Dillon and post player Bret Brielmaier are getting any kind of time off the bench. After early season experiments, Olson seems to be going with the two juniors to spell his starting five.

It looks like the Wildcats are going with the "safe" players off the bench. Neither player really looks for their shots when they come in the game. They will take an open look, but more often than not the two just look to come in, play defense and do the dirty work. Neither player is likely to extend a lead, but neither is the type of player who will hurt you during their time on the floor.

Players like Nic Wise and Jordan Hill may be more likely to make big plays, but are also prone to mistakes. Wise can make the big three, Hill can block shots, but neither has shown the consistency or experience needed to see extended playing time.

Conventional wisdom says that as the season progresses, the youngsters on the bench will continue to develop and can make an impact. However, if they do not, the Cats are not in trouble. Of the Wildcat Final Four teams, most shortened their benches in the NCAA Tournament.

The 1988 team essentially went 7 ½ men deep. Kenny Lofton was the first guard off the bench and Joe Turner was the first big off the bench. Jud Buechler and Harvey Mason also saw time, but there minutes were limited.

In the Final Four game against Oklahoma the starters played 172 of 200 minutes. Lofton was the lone reserve to play double figure minutes with 11. Turner saw just seven minutes, while Buechler and Mason combined for less than 10 minutes combined.

The 1994 team was much of the same. In the loss to Arkansas the starters played 182 of 200 minutes with sixth man Corey Williams logging 12 minutes. Kevin Flanagan and Joe McLean played just four and two minutes respectively.

The 1997 team was a bit deeper. They had a legitimate scorer off the bench with Jason Terry and could turn to Gene Edgerson or Donnell Harris for help in the post. Normally on that team Terry would play a load of minutes as he was the primary sub for all three backcourt positions. Olson preferred to go with his starters in the post as much as possible, but in the case of foul trouble, as was the case in both Final Four games, the Cats had no problem going with the two reserve big men for extended periods.

The 2001 team had similar depth to the other teams. Luke Walton was the wing off the bench, subbing in for either Richard Jefferson or Gilbert Arenas. Gene Edgerson was the primary sub for the post players. Jason Gardner rarely left the game, especially in the Tournament, but when he did it was Lamont Frazer who spelled him for a few minutes a game. Gardner played 78 of 80 minutes in the Final Four. Justin Wessel was also available to play spot minutes inside.

Maybe the only difference between this team and some of the teams in the past is the talent level of the player coming off the bench. Walton and Terry are clearly better than either of the players that the Cats currently bring off the bench. Williams and Lofton were both starters their final seasons in Tucson and neither Dillon nor Brielmaier appear to destined to start next year.

Despite that, the Cats' starting five is so good and so well conditioned, that they don't need a lot of bench play to succeed. Unless there is foul trouble, they really only need spot minutes from their reserves. If a player like Wise can provide points off the bench from time to time, the Cats could be set. While they don't really need Dillon or Brielmaier to do a whole lot of scoring, having one guy who can provide a Terry-like spark may help immensely. Even if Wise is a poor man's Jason Terry, the Cats will benefit.

History shows the Cats don't need a deep bench to be good. They just need solid play from a couple of players. Right now it appears they have a few players who can maintain things while the starters get a breather.

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