Warmin' the Bench with KGRTC

It's time to admit it- KU simply doesn't have the best depth of the top four contenders for this year's title.  Despite preseason perceptions, KU trails another top 4 team when it comes to bench production.  Using Warden's patent-pending plus/minus system, the Jayhawks are simply outclassed by this juggernaut. By 5 total points. Which of the Big Boys has the best bench? Read on to find out...

I decided to actually try to bring a little substance to RCT for once and analyzed bench production for the four teams I think are the main contenders for the title this year (feel free to add in any other teams in the comments).  As previously mentioned, to do so, I used Warden's plus/minus system. 


There are a couple of things to keep in mind with these numbers, however.  First of all, I used the raw numbers, and didn't account for differences in tempo by using per-possession stats.  Secondly, I chose to use every member of each team's bench, since I don't follow the other teams close enough to know what they consider their regular rotation, how it has evolved over the season, etc.

First up, the #1 Kansas Jayhawks.

KU came into this season after a rebuilding year that ended with a nice run to the Sweet 16. Along with the expected growth of three contributing freshmen-turning sophomores, Kansas earned the #1 preseason ranking in most polls due to the perceived quality of five incoming players, giving the Jayhawks perhaps the deepest team in the country on paper.  As the season has worn on, however, only one of these 5 highly-touted recruits (Xavier Henry) has been able to crack the regular rotation, and his minutes seem to be dwindling as the season progresses.  HCBS appears to have settled on an 8 man rotation.  In calculating my numbers, I did include Tyshawn Taylor as a bench player, even though he spent a good deal of the season as a starter.

KU's Overall Bench Production to this Point: 281

My thoughts- the problem with using raw data like this, IMO, is that it leaves open the question- are players getting the best +/- score because they play the most, or are they playing the most because they get the best +/- score? Anyways, the three bench players that I would say crack the rotation have clearly separated themselves from the rest.  By my count, Taylor is +47 on the season, Markieff is +83, and Reed is +70. The next most productive player is Elijah Johnson at +27. 

For more on KU's numbers, check out my related FanShot.


Next, the #4 Kentucky Wildcats:

As much as Kansas fans may be annoyed by the invasive bravado of certain UK faithful, as well as the slimy, Used Car Salesmanesque vibe of John Calipari, one thing can't be denied: these kids can play.  While Kentucky's strength of schedule doesn't look as good now as it did earlier in the year, they've still compiled an impressive record, and it's probably fair to say that they've had more impressive blowout wins than the #1 Jayhawks.  But how has their bench performed up to this point?

UK's Overall Bench Production to this Point: 212


Ahem. Sorry about that. Kentucky's +/- ratings are interesting, because there isn't a clear cutoff point from them alone to determine which players are in the regular rotation, and which aren't.  For example, Perry Stevenson only has 30 points on the season, but his +/- of +39 is tied for second highest of the bench players.  It appears that Darius Miller is their clear 6th man off the bench, with a +/- of +64, but after that, the picture gets murkier. Either Calipari is continuing to tinker with the rotation of his very young team, or he prefers to use much more situational substitution patterns than HCBS.  It's fair to say that you don't know what you're going to get from Kentucky's bench from game to game.  Either way, it's CLEAR that the Jayhawks are on the better path.




It's science.


Moving along, we come to the #2 Villanova Wildcats.

Somewhat quietly, Nova has ridden a great start to Big East play all the way to a 19-1 overall record, including 9-0 in their always-tough conference. It helps when only one of those games is against a ranked opponent, and that was at home, and your only loss was to a team that KU rolled, but it's still an impressive performance nonetheless.  We all know it's Sherron's world, and we all just live in it, but Scottie Reynolds is no slouch. A Final Four matchup with these two going one-on-one would be absolutely epic. Much like Sherron, Reynolds is a senior that is the unquestioned heart and soul of his team.  And any Jay Wright team is going to have great guard play. But what about the bench?

Villanova's Overall Bench Production to this Point: 167

The first thing that jumps out at you when looking at Nova's bench production is the play of Taylor King, who has a whopping +/- of 102 on the year.  This guy appears to be a SINO, a Sub In Name Only, since he averages over 20 mpg.  But still, that's very impressive production from a player that doesn't even start.  On the opposite end of the scale, consider Maalik Wayns, the second-leading scorer off the bench for the Wildcats, but a -2 overall on the season, due to an unimpressive 1:1 assist:turnover ratio, and poor rebounding and shotblocking skills without many steals to make up for it.  Overall, if you look at points, and not efficiency, Nova appears to go 8 deep like the Jayhawks...only nowhere near as productive.  Until now, Nova's bench production has been significantly weaker than the other topflight teams.  They are about to be put through a trial by fire with a murderous final month of the season.  Are they up to the task?


Finally, we get to #3 Syracuse Orange.

Syracuse started out the season extremely underrated, getting only #25 in one poll, and the dreaded "also receiving votes" in another.  Granted, this might have been influenced by the still-difficult-to-fathom loss to the Le Moyne Dolphins:



Nothing says "Upstate New York" like...dolphins.

Whatever the case, Syracuse has been on a mission this season, steamrolling to a 21-1 record. A lot of that credit has to go to Wesley Johnson, who, much like Jevan Snead, has proven that "good" Big 12 players translate into "great" players in other, some would say inferior, conferences.  The underrated reason for the Fightin' Melos rise to the top? The most productive bench of any elite team.

Syracuse's Overall Bench Production to this Point: 286.

SINOs must be the new hotness in the Big East, because Syracuse also boasts one in Kris Joseph. His +/- is an even more amazing +117 on the season. Joseph averages the third most minutes on the team, so again, he's much more of a 6th starter than anything else.  What makes Syracuse's bench so great, however, is that Scoop Jardine also clocks in with a +98.  Scoopie, though, only plays about half the game. Very impressive- almost as impressive as his namesake, Wesley "Two Scoops" Berry (probably not his namesake, but damn that guy was awesome).


So there you have it.  Even though the overall difference between the benches of KU and SU may be negligible, it's clear that Cuse has two players in reserve that have produced significantly better than any Jayhawk sub this season.  Vilanova also has a super sub that can put Kieff/Reed/Taylor's numbers to shame, but lacks quality depth.  Kentucky doesn't have any individual player whose +/- really pops out at you, but they seem to be doing a good job by committee.

What does this all mean? Is Kansas getting enough from its bench to win it all? Did KU's struggles in the thin air expose a lack of depth, or was that just a fluke bad game? If you were HCBS, would you make any adjustments to your rotation to get more production from non-starters? Do you see him making any significant changes from here on out?


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