Road test exposes Kansas’ thin bench

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

KU coach Bill Self

Kansas coach Bill Self talks to reporters following the Jayhawks' 72-64 loss to Iowa State on Jan. 28, 2012.

Download podcast

Podcast episode

Press Conferences & Post-Game Interviews

Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson

KU players Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson talk to reporters following the Jayhawks' 72-64 loss to Iowa State on Jan. 28, 2012.

Download podcast

KU vs. Iowa State

Box score

Illinois and Indiana combined for 153 points in a Big Ten game just weeks ago, and the 10 starters scored every one of those points.

TV timeouts every four minutes make a bench less crucial than it once was, and with even longer breaks in the NCAA Tournament, the value of reserves can be overrated.

Still, it sure is nice to have a quality bench when the need arises.

With personal fouls mounting and starters struggling to score in Hilton Coliseum, Kansas University’s basketball team needed a bailout from the guys who don’t get to hear their names announced to the crowd before the opening tip.

It didn’t happen, and KU suffered its first Big 12 loss, 72-64, to Iowa State, which closed the game with a 20-11 run in the last eight minutes, 10-5 in the final 2:18.

Bill Self distributed 29 minutes to his three chief reserves — guard Conner Teahan and forwards Kevin Young and Justin Wesley. In 29 minutes, They responded with five points, two rebounds, an assist and a turnover. They made two of 12 shots.

In the loss to Davidson in Sprint Center in December, the bench logged 48 minutes and contributed six points and 10 rebounds on 2-of-11 shooting. They had one assist and four turnovers in that one.

Duke? Scoreless in 30 minutes, no rebounds, no assists.

Detect a pattern anyone?

It’s not that the starters are responsible for all the season’s big victories. Young sparked the Jayhawks to a huge nonconference win against Ohio State. The game before that, Teahan caught fire and played a huge part in a victory against a tough Long Beach State squad.

Both of those games took place in Allen Fieldhouse, where the home crowd fueled the home team.

Typically, in basketball, the better, more experienced players display the least slippage on the road, the reserves the most. The road also is where a strong bench is most important.

Players get called for more fouls on the road than at home for a couple of reasons. One, fatigue sets in easier when the home crowd isn’t with them to pump them full of adrenaline. A tired basketball player doesn’t move his feet as well and doesn’t focus as well, two factors that lead to fouling. A second factor — or should it be first? — has to do with how referees call games. Everybody seeks approval, and even though officials try not to play favorites, they are human. Their innate desire to be liked kicks in, even if only on a subconscious level, and the close calls tend to go in favor of the home team more often than the visitors.

Fatigue and foul trouble make reserves needed more on the road, where they are less equipped to get the job done.

All that is a long way of stating that Saturday could prove to be just the beginning of rough times on the most challenging road stretch of the season. It started with Ames and — with home games mixed in — continues with trips to Columbia, Waco and Manhattan.

Asked the obvious question of whether he needs to get more from his bench, KU coach Bill Self gave the obvious answer.

“Uh, I think that would be affirmative,” Self said. “We’re not getting much at all, and we’re playing guys too many minutes. We’re not getting much from our bench at all right now.”

A better offensive than defensive player, Young had a rough day in Hilton, hitting just one of five shots and misfiring multiple mid-range jumpers.

“I’ve got to knock that down,” Young said. “I shoot 100 of those a day, so there’s no excuse why I can’t make that shot.”

He looks less than 100 percent comfortable on his new team after spending two seasons playing for Loyola Marymount.

“I wouldn’t say 100 percent,” Young said. “It takes time, but I’m getting there.”

Teahan has made six of 29 three-pointers in his past seven games.

Wesley has more personal fouls (52) than rebounds (44) or points (34).

Freshman Naadir Tharpe’s tendency toward the quick turnover has kept Self from including him in the rotation.

On most days and nights, the bench will perform better than it did in the past three losses, but how much better?