Outlook: In the NCAA Tournament, the importance of a quality bench is greatly diminished. Looking beyond the fact that we are talking about 18-23 year olds that are in peak physical condition, the TV timeouts — of which there are eight during the course of a game that takes about two hours — get extended. That’s how a team like Kentucky, that essentially uses a six man rotation, can make a run to the Final Four.
Perhaps the most important part of having a deep bench in the tournament is for a change of pace. If a player in struggling, or if the team is flat, you can bring in a player off the bench for some instant offense. Its also insurance against foul trouble.
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Ranking the Benches:
1) VCU: Of anyone left in this tournament, VCU may get the most important contribution off of their bench. On a team full of shooters, Brandon Rozzell is probably VCU’s most dangerous. He’s streaky, but when he gets hot he can hit four or five in a row from deep. Darius Theus and Rob Brandenburg both are important pieces for the Rams as well. Theus gives Shaka Smart another option at the point while Brandenburg provides some athleticism at the off-guard spot. Juvonte Reddic and Toby Veal give the Rams live bodies off the bench in the front court.
2) UConn: The key to UConn’s bench is Shabazz Napier. The freshman guard is vital because he allows Kemba Walker to move off the ball and focus on his scoring. And while Napier is, in fact, a bench player, he generally plays starters minutes as UConn will go small after starting Charles Okwandu. Also coming off of UConn’s bench is Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, a combo-forward that provides UConn with some instant offense. Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey, and Donnell Beverly all have had big games for the Huskies as well.
3) Butler: The Bulldog’s don’t get a ton of scoring from their bench, but they do have a number of important pieces that don’t start. For starters, there is defensive stopper Ronald Nored. Butler’s had a bit of a fluid starting lineup this season in the back court, but of late its been Chase Stigall who begins the game on the court, but Nored ends up playing the majority of the minutes. Also coming off the bench is Khyle Marshall, an athletic, 6’7″ freshman forward that is a much-needed change of pace with slow-footed Matt Howard and Andrew Smith starting. Sharp-shooting Zack Hahn and scrappy Garrett Butcher also see minutes.
4) Kentucky: Like I mentioned earlier, Kentucky really only uses a six man rotation. Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins have essentially rotated through the fifth spot in the starting lineup, with Lamb starting the past three games in the tournament. Liggins started more games this season, however. Whoever starts for the Wildcats, the key is that Lamb, Miller, and Liggins all understand the role that they are meant to play. Lamb is the shooter, Liggins is the defender, and Miller is the do-it-all guy.
Future Pros: With Liggins coming off of the bench now for the Wildcats now, there is a chance that he will one day play in the NBA. Beyond that, maybe Shabazz Napier has a shot at making the NBA. That’s it.
Essential to winning a title?: Like I said earlier, having a good bench is a bit overrated in the tournament. The extended TV timeouts make it easier to stay rested during the games, which isn’t a problem for many of the players as it is. There really are two reasons that the bench is used by these teams. The first is changing the lineup on the floor. Butler, VCU, and UConn all start bigger lineups, but their best lineup much of the time features more guards and fewer big men. The other reason the bench is used is as a spark. See Brandon Rozzell’s three point shooting or DeAndre Liggins’ defensive intensity.