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Lack of depth is worrisome for Minnesota Golden Gophers

Will the Gophers be able to succeed despite their poor bench presence?

NCAA Basketball: Miami at Minnesota Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Every great warrior has their own weakness, and eventual downfall. Take the iconic story of Achilles from your high school English courses. Thetis, Achilles’ mother, dipped her son in the river Styx when he was a baby. Per the myth, the river Styx had the ability to make people immortal, hence why Thetis put Achilles in said river.

Setting aside the lack of parental discipline, (I mean, the thought of a mother dipping her newborn in a river is quite outrageous, right?) Achilles did assume the powers that the river had to offer. However, Thetis left her son’s heel from the water, so she could still hang onto him (Again, the common sense is really not present here). Ultimately, in “ironic” fashion, Achilles was struck in that very heel by a poisoned arrow which led to his final demise. Henceforth, both anatomically and figuratively, a person’s weakness is described as their Achilles heel.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are no Achilles from a warrior standpoint, but they both do have a fault. For Achilles, it was his literal heel (or his pride, if you really want to read analytically). For Minnesota, it is their lack of depth. It is a proven and overstated fact that they feature one of, if not the best starting five in the NCAA. There is no argument in that discussion.

Yet, when they take their five starters off the floor, the quality of play suffers to a great degree. The lack of bench play may lead to the untimely downfall of this Gophers team.

Currently, through 10 games, the Minnesota bench is averaging only 26 percent of the shots taken on the team. In the 157 shots they have attempted this season, the bench is shooting 42 percent from the field. That is certainly not a terrible number, especially since the team as a whole is shooting 49 percent. However, given the low volume of shots, it is hard to make a conclusive judgement solely based on percentages.

Therefore, we have to look deeper. The most productive player, although somewhat inefficient, is freshman Isaiah Washington. He chews up a majority of the shots attempted for the bench, but he is only shooting 35 percent from the field. On top of that, he is the only player off the pine to average more than 11 minutes per game. Part of this has to do with Washington starting in the Miami game due to Dupree McBrayer’s injury.

Despite only playing 19 minutes per game, Washington still has the third highest usage rate on the team at 26.8 percent. The next highest bench player on that list is Davonte Fitzgerald, who is ninth on the team, out of 13 registered players. This unusually high usage rate only furthers the idea that Washington is really the only player that has been sufficient for the Gophers off the bench this season.

What rounds out the remaining core of the Minnesota bench is Michael Hurt, Jamir Harris, Bakary Konate, and Fitzgerald. Hurt, although efficient at times, is a poor defender and cannot hold his own on the glass against bigger defenders. Harris, the other freshman in this class is not ready to be playing as much as he is. Despite being a senior, Konate still looks to be an incredibly raw player offensively. The fact that he has not shaped into form in four years is certainly alarming. Lastly, Fitzgerald has lost a great amount of burst due to knee injuries and believes himself to be a shooter when he really is not.

Subtract Washington from this group and you have a bench that is well below average. This forces Richard Pitino to play his starters more than he might like to. What this could lead to is some sticky situations if Reggie Lynch or Jordan Murphy run into foul trouble, which they are prone to do.

Just take a look at the bench’s stats minus Washington over the past five games:

Last five games: 9 for 29 (31 percent) from field, 26 total points (5.2 per game)

Not only that, in the game versus Miami (which Washington started) the bench only attempted one shot and scored zero points. To date, that was Minnesota’s biggest game, and is was their first loss. It’s just a plain fact that the Gopher bench needs to be better, but they just do not have the players to do that.

Add in their abysmal loss to Nebraska on Tuesday night as another example. Outside of Washington, the bench only put up five shots, missing all of them. Thus, the Gophers were absolutely shellacked by the Huskers, a team they should have beaten handily. These are just a few of the consequences.

In my view, this is directly related to the injury of Eric Curry. His athleticism and rebounding prowess would be so valuable to this team right now. Without Curry their bench is suffering, big time. If they do not find a way to efficiently use their bench players, the Minnesota Golden Gophers will be stymied by their Achilles heel. However, unlike Achilles, this will be fact, not myth.