Too many minutes or media exageration?

Are the Wildcat starters playing too much? Lute Olson does not think so. In fact he made it a point to state that the Wildcats are not that far off from what the rest of the league is doing with their starters. Is Olson correct? Of course he is, to a point.

At his weekly press conference Olson chastised the local media about their pursuit of stories regarding Arizona's lack of bench play. Olson argued that the rest of the league is doing the same thing, but that isn't quite accurate.

"I asked Rich (Richard Page, sports information) to check with the other teams in the league and you find the same situation in almost every case," Olson said.

That statement is true and it is not true. It is true in as much as most teams in the Pac-10 use a seven to eight man rotation. In fact a few teams rely mostly on a single key reserve and then a guy who may spell for just a few minutes.

Where that account differs is in terms of actual minutes played by the starting five. If you take each team's top-five players and look at the minutes they play, you will see that few teams log the type of minutes that the Wildcats do.

1. Arizona 165.2
2. Oregon 160.2
3. Cal 154.2
4. Arizona State 147.1
5. UCLA – 146.6
6. USC – 145.6
7. Washington State 145.1
8. Stanford 142.1
9. Oregon State 138
10. Washington 134.1

Only Oregon and Cal are even close to Arizona in terms of minutes played by their top five, but it must be noted that Cal's numbers would be even closer had Devon Harden not gotten injured. Since his departure, his replacements have garnered more minutes which have sort of skewed things.

On the surface it may look like Olson was mistaken, but let's dig deeper.

All told there are 26 players in the Pac-10 averaging 30 minutes a game and five of them are Wildcats. However, of the top-10 in minutes played, only three are Wildcats.

Arizona is the only team to have all five starters average 30 minutes or more, but both UCLA and Oregon have four starters averaging 30 minutes a game and the Ducks' Malik Hairston has been injured and could work his way up to 30 minutes if things continue to go the way they have been since he returned to the line-up.

Where you see Arizona with the biggest discrepancy is in the number of minutes that its top reserve plays. Daniel Dillon plays averages just 11.1 minutes a game. The next lowest top reserve Oregon State's Jack McGillis who plays 17.2 minutes a game.

Where Arizona does resemble other teams is in the number of reserves they play. The Wildcats generally go with 2-3 players off the bench in non-blowout games. Oregon, USC, Washington and Washington State are the only teams to have more than eight regular players average double figure minutes. Oregon and USC have dealt with eligibility and injury issues, while the two Washington schools have seen a number of players who made contributions early in the year see their roles drastically reduced once the Pac-10 season began.

The Ducks have seen both Malik Hairston and Chamberlain Oguchi miss significant stretches with injuries, which has skewed the numbers a bit but the Ducks do let nine players see the floor in the up-tempo style. USC actually has 11 players average double figures, but guys like Kevin Galloway and Kyle Austin have not played in close fought games and Keith Wilkerson has seen his minutes reduce drastically in the past three games.

The Huskies have seen Brandon Burmeister play just eight minutes in the last five games, not seeing any action in three of them. Hans Gasser played 16 minutes in the last game, but played just eight minutes in the four previous to that. WSU's numbers are also skewed by players that are not contributing that much in Pac-10 play, whether it is due to injury or ineffectiveness.

In fact let's look at the minutes that are being played in Conference games. Suddenly the numbers are quite different. Arizona 174.5
Washington State 164
USC 163.4
Oregon 163.2
Arizona State 161.4
Stanford 160.2
California 156.2
UCLA 152.6
Washington 148.8
Oregon State 137

While Arizona still leads the league, and decisively so, the entire league (other than Oregon State) has seen the minutes that their starters play increase. Eight of the teams have their starters playing 150 or more minutes, when just three teams had those type of numbers over the course of the entire season.

Again, we have to look inside the numbers. While it is apparent that Arizona relies on its starters even more than the rest of the league, they have almost been forced into that because or injuries, transfers and suspensions.

This is where we have huge factual difference between the Wildcats and the rest of the league…the preseason.

Arizona played one of the nation's toughest, if not the toughest, non-conference schedule. The Cats had few gimme games and did not get to play the bench as much as the staff had wanted.

In the end the Wildcat starters do log more minutes than any other starting five in the league, but it is not as overwhelming as it may sound. Coach Olson actually did not sound worried in the least, saying the biggest issue was mental fatigue due to a tough Pac-10, not physical fatigue from too many minutes.

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