The Gophers bench has been struggling lately, and that’s putting it kindly. In 31 combined minutes of action from the Gophers bench against Illinois last week, they tallied 6 turnovers and 0 points. That’s not the kind of bench production a top ten team needs to maintain their position in the Big Ten. Minnesota beat Illinois despite the paltry contribution from the bench thanks to 29 points from Joe Coleman, 22 from Dre Hollins and 19 from Trevor Mbakwe.
Saturday’s loss at Indiana wasn’t much better either. Maverick Ahanmisi came off the bench to hit two threes during a frantic Gophers rally from a 22-point deficit. Other than those six point, the bench produced one bucket from big man Andre Ingram. In addition, the bench only found the energy to muster 3 rebounds, while contributing 4 turnovers.
If this lack of production continues, the Gophers will be hard pressed to compete for the Big Ten and make a run in the NCAA tournament. A team that appeared to be deep and powerful at the outset of the season now is showing an acute lack of depth. Julian Welch has become non-existent in recent weeks. The promising center Elliot Eliason, who started for much of the season, has been a no-show over the last few games. Increased bench production starts with them. Welch and Eliason need to carry the weight.
It’s understandable that they’re struggling to adjust. Both probably feel they should be in the starting lineup, but the team needs them coming off the bench. Tubby Smith could support them by improving his rotation. Many times this season, Tubby’s substitution patterns are sporadic. Settling on a consistent rotation will allow the bench in turn to settle into their individual roles.
But it begins with Welch and Eliason fully embracing those roles. And it begins tonight against #5 Michigan.