Where's the bench?
Following the catastrophe at Michigan (oh, that's right, Illinois won). Following the ugly win at Michigan, much of the focus has been on the collective disappearing act pulled by the Illini reserves. Jack Ingram was the only member of the Illinois squad who saw playing time in the second half as Coach Bruce Weber sat Roger Powell for six minutes and James Augustine for one.
The headline in the Chicago Tribune read Illini backups go backward at bad time
. Jim O'Donnell wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that the effectiveness of the Illinois bench is disappearing
. In the Decatur Herald & Tribune
, Mark Tupper wrote: Not once during the course of this unbeaten season has Weber so thoroughly turned his back on his bench, and it's a trend that probably should not continue
. Lindsey Willhite wrote in the Daily Herald
: As Illinois rallied to victory Tuesday night, two of its key reserves stayed glued to their seats
Admittedly, the bench was not good. Ingram's 12 minutes was double what Rich McBride and Nick Smith played combined. Between the three of them, they only took five shots with Smith and Ingram each making one. The three of them also managed only one rebound, one assist and one steal. In his post-game comments, Weber admitted that the bench did not produce.
Before everyone writes off the bench, they would do well to keep in mind that one game doth not a season make. Were it not for Jack Ingram's eight points in both games, Illinois might not have come out on top against Wisconsin and Iowa. Rich McBride had two big three-point baskets in his only two attempts at Purdue and had maybe his best game of the season against Michigan State. Nick Smith had three important baskets against Iowa.
As for the starters logging too many minutes, Luther Head is averaging 32.5 minutes per contest, Dee Brown 32.1 and Deron Williams 33.4 while James Augustine and Roger Powell are averaging 25.7 and 25.5, respectively. Weber says he wants his starters averaging between 33 and 36 minutes per game; they're at just under 30. Weber also said about the bench: "They've been important in the streak and made big plays. Now, they have to pick it up again.''
The bench is clearly not a strength for the Illini. However, in their search for flaws in this perfect team, some have become perhaps a bit overzealous.