Indiana Needs More From Its Bench

If the bench reaches its potential, maybe IU could be seeing more games like this. - Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The Hoosiers are fighting desperately to snag an NCAA Tournament bid. Unfortunately, their bench might not be helping them as much as needed to accomplish this task.

The Hoosiers have continued their mixed season. Indiana finished the non-conference slate at 10-3, but had no marquee wins. Following that, it only took Indiana until their 4th conference game before they snagged that elusive marquee win (Wisconsin at home). Unfortunately, they have followed it up with mixed play. Since that Wisconsin win, Indiana is just 2-4 including losses to Nebraska and Northwestern. However, also included in that 2-4 record was a win over Michigan (currently 1st in the B1G). The season has been tough to explain.

All this mixed play has led to one thing: a questionable NCAA Tournament bid. Indiana fans have come to expect a trip to the big dance in March, but that is certainly up in the air. It looked like the team might be trending back in the right direction after the Michigan game, but a loss to Minnesota (another tourney team) has once again put that in jeopardy. Not only is Indiana currently projected to miss the tourney, but according to ESPN, they are not even in the first 8 teams outside on Selection Sunday. So what does Indiana need to do to edge back in?

A lot has been posted about winning certain games and avoiding certain losses. In fact, I have personally posted articles several times this season highlighting the games that Indiana would likely need to win to get in. At this point in the year, there are too few remaining games to talk about this realistically. Indiana simply needs to win and win now. The better question is about how they can do that.

The answer will differ by person, but one area that could improve is the bench. The Hoosiers looked like they could be very deep in the offseason, but the bench has failed to meet expectations. While guys like Yogi Ferrel and Noah Vonleh are putting up incredible numbers, guys like Evan Gordon, Hanner Mosquera-Perea, and Jeremy Hollowell have faded down the stretch. These are just three guys, but these three alone were in serious discussion for starting spots (and even started this year). To see them come up so small has to be disheartening for this team.

Just take a look at the last few games for the Hoosiers. At this point, every game is huge. A single win or loss could be monumental in determining whether the team gets a bid. So with the season on the line, here is what the bench has produced for Indiana:


Indiana Bench Points

Opponent Bench Points

Indiana Bench Rebounds

Opponent Bench Rebounds

Indiana Bench Assists

Opponent Bench Assists

IU vs. MSU

13

12

3

4

1

3

ILL vs. IU

12

10

4

6

1

5

IU v. Neb.

7

6

6

6

2

1

Mich. v. IU

12

7

9

1

0

2

IU v. Minn.

12

24

6

13

2

8

There are a lot of interesting numbers in here. Basic stats have their limits of course, but it is interesting to compare Indiana's raw bench outputs to their performance on the court. This is only 5 games, but there are some interesting things here. First, Indiana's best performance was clearly against Michigan, where their bench dominated Michigan's bench. Considering the opponent, that is even more significant. On the flip side, Minnesota was clearly Indiana's bench's worst performance of this stretch. Part of this is because Minnesota has bench guys playing starter minutes, but it was a great performance from Minnesota.

This table also partially rejects the conclusion that Indiana's bench is underperforming. There are two ways to look at this. Yes, in raw stats, Indiana "won" the bench battle in at least 2 of the games above and were about deadlocked in another game. However, the flip side of that is that Indiana's bench was able to perform so well against Michigan, but was only narrowly able to beat or perform closely against teams like Illinois and Nebraska. One could conclude here that Indiana's bench may be hanging with a lot of opponents, but they have the potential to be something special. With that potential, IU should not be just "matching" teams like Illinois, they should be blowing them out of the water. Raw statlines (again) are not perfect, but you would expect to see that Michigan line a lot more often with the kind of talent sitting on the side of the court.

Indiana's tourney hopes will not be decided alone by the team's bench performance, but the bench has shown incredible potential. If they can tap into that in some of the team's upcoming games, maybe the Hoosiers can make it back to the big dance.

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