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In Hindsight: The Player Rotation

A day and a half has now passed and we can now begin to sift through the wreckage of what was meant to be a historic season, yet ended up a serious heartbreak. As Denver lead off this little four part mini-series, the experiences factor has been discussed. I have drawn the breakdown of the player rotation. A good fit, it is, because I happened to be one of the more vocal members here at RCT for going deeper into the bench as the conference season wore on. Disclaimer: This isn't a criticism or an argument for a deeper rotation. Just presenting the facts here.

First, the transformation of the Kansas roster from the end of last season:

Out: Brennan Bechard (graduation), Matt Kleinmann (graduation), Quintrell Thomas (transfer), Tyrone Appleton (transfer), Mario Little (redshirt), Travis Releford (redshirt)

In: Xavier Henry, Thomas Robinson, Elijah Johnson, C.J. Henry, Jeff Withey

Holdovers: Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed, Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Conner Teahan, Jordan Juenemann, Chase Buford

One thing that kind of lends to the experience factor that Denver didn't mention - the "mutual transfers" of Quintrell Thomas and Tyrone Appleton. Appleton was a highly touted point guard with lots of experience at the JUCO level. That's not Division 1, let alone NCAA Tournament, experience, but he was less turnover prone when he played last year than Tyshawn Taylor proved to be this year. Granted, him playing was a rarity, but he showed the signs of a steady ball handler and someone who could make the right decisions and not try to make too much happen. This post won't even touch on the question of chemistry and how altering the roster so much from year to year had an effect. I have a feeling Denver will touch on that tomorrow when he looks at the team chemistry. Just a thought to throw out there.

It's always been head coach Bill Self's philosophy to find a regular rotation and stick to it, especially come conference play time. Early on in the year, he played around with different players in at different times, different lineups on the court and doled out minutes without much probelm. During the first semester of the academic year, Brady Morningstar was on suspension, so there were another 15-20 minutes to issue at the guard spot. Elijah Johnson benefited the most from this. Fellow freshman had a similar benefit in the first semester before Jeff Withey became eligible to play after transferring from Arizona.

He finally settled on a regular rotation of: Collins, Taylor/Morningstar, (starting and off the bench) Henry, Mc. Morris, Aldrich, Mk. Morris, Taylor/Morningstar (the non-starter of the day) and Reed. They eventually accounted for nearly 94 percent of the minutes played on the season.

The minutes played by the three players who were the biggest subjects of the player rotation debate:

Game Johnson Robinson Withey Game Johnson Robinson Withey
1 17 17 0 19 1 12 12
2 7 2 0 20 3 5 1
3 14 18 0 21 0 0 0
4 13 9 0 22 0 3 0
5 13 18 0 23 0 6 9
6 21 18 0 24 0 0 0
7 4 1 0 25 6 0 3
8 15 16 0 26 0 0 1
9 6 9 0 27 5 6 3
10 0 11 0 28 0 7 0
11 1 9 0 29 0 1 1
12 10 8 6 30 1 1 1
13 4 8 2 31 1 5 1
14 0 3 0 32 1 5 1
15 0 3 0 33 0 3 0
16 2 8 0 34 0 2 0
17 3 11 3 35 1 7 1
18 2 4 0 36 0 0 0

Three questions

  • Can you guess between which game numbers Morningstar became eligible after suspension?
  • Robinson had 5 turnovers in the last 12 games in which he played. Why not play him more when he has fixed his one biggest fault?
  • When the Morris twins picked up the bad habit of foul trouble late in the season, Robinson and Withey's minutes played continued to flat-line for the most part. Why?

Morningstar became eligible to play on December 19 against Michigan, game number 10. Johnson went from playing 12.2 minutes per game before Morningstar's return to his first minute-less game followed 2 or fewer in 20 of the team's last 26 games. It's not as if Johnson's numbers were bad and we was only playing because there was no one else capable. He was the 24th ranked player in the nation his senior season. His turnover numbers the last three games before he disappeared into the abyss? Zero, zero and zero. He played far worse in that aspect against very early competition of lesser teams than he did so just before the tougher non-conference stretch was set to start, with games against Michigan, California and Temple in the coming weeks and conference play soon thereafter - three games the team won by an average of 19 points, yet Johnson played under 2 minutes per those games.

Of the three players in question, the lack of use of Robinson baffles me the most. A potential floor of a Darnell Jackson rebounding machine and a ceiling of a Drew Gooden multi-talented All-American type. Early on in the season, he played multiple meaningful minutes. He was turnover-prone throughout the non-conference schedule. You won't find anyone to argue that. But, in the 12 games mentioned above, he turned the ball over 5 times total in 4-plus minutes per game. Rebounding was something that was always there for Robinson. His 100 percent effort was his M.O. during his freshman season and always consistent. While the three man big man rotation of Aldrich and the Morris twins was effective, games in which they were all three very good were rare. It seems the more often insetion of Robinson would have not only benefited him, but the team when someone else was struggling.

In the last 19 games of the season, there 15 games in which a Morris twin picked up four or five fouls in a game, three of which were foul outs by Marcus. That's nearly every game where one of them were in serious danger of fouling out or actually doing so. Robinson played an average of 3.5 minutes in those 19 games, including including 5 in which he logged less than a full minute or none at all. At the same time, Withey played less than 2 minutes per game, including 15 games of one minute or none at all.

You can take the numbers for what they are and buy into the school of thought that the regular rotation should have gone deeper occasionally or not. Not even discussed here, though, is the future factor. What effect could this have on next year's team; not playing the younger guys more that are going to be relied upon heavily next season? It's a great point of debate.