Mike Woodson said on Saturday he doesn’t change his rotation, but there have been exceptions.
When Trey Galloway picked up his second foul with 8:54 left in the first half against Auburn, he was subbed out and never came back in the game until the second half. That was a significant change to the rotation. Without that second foul, Galloway almost certainly would have seen much more first half action.
Indiana led at the moment of Galloway’s second foul, 26-24, but they’d never lead again. By that point the Hoosiers were well on their way to giving away an early 22-10 lead they held at the 12:54 mark.
After a few minutes on the bench, Galloway had checked back in at the 11:22 mark. Also seeing time on the bench from the 14:33 mark when Galloway first checked out to 8:54 when Galloway picked up the second were Kel’el Ware and Mackenzie Mgbako, who both checked out with 12:54 left, and Malik Reneau, who left at 11:22.
Collectively those four players are Indiana’s four leading scorers. And by the time Ware, Reneau and Mgbako were all back on the floor together at the 8:02 mark, a 12-point IU lead had been completely erased.
Galloway was the best playmaker and most athletic guard Indiana had available to contend with Auburn’s pressure defense and aggressive offensive attack. But with him on the bench, IU fell behind 52-34 at halftime, a 28-8 reversal of fortune since he picked up the second foul.
And as it turned out, Galloway never committed another foul.
Woodson almost always benches starters with two first half fouls. A year ago this same weekend Indiana was run off the floor by Arizona when he benched Xavier Johnson for the remainder of the first half after he picked up a second foul.
To be fair, the third year coach got burned by Johnson a few weeks ago when he played him with two first half fouls against UConn and he quickly proceeded to pick up a third.
While Woodson’s two-foul policy has been head-scratching, his rotation patterns, and specifically taking all or most of his starters off the floor at the same time, has been especially perplexing.
Why take everyone out at the same time?
“I kind of substitute pretty much the same way every game,” Woodson said after the loss to Auburn. “You can’t just burn them (out).”
But is that the right strategy? A consistent, predictable rotation? Or should it be modified for each opponent?
Sure they all need a break, but how much? And do the breaks need to overlap so much?
When Galloway picked up two fouls, that necessitated a change to the rotation in Woodson’s mind. But what about making a change for matchups? Or due to the caliber of the opponent? Maybe Ware needs to play more against top competition?
Trayce Jackson-Davis played 35 or more minutes in 21 games a year ago for Woodson. He played 38 or more minutes 12 times. So perhaps Woodson is on his way to realizing once again there are certain players who need to be on the floor for a greater workload. Right now, no one is averaging more than Galloway’s 31.8 per contest.
Beyond being the two best opponents IU has faced, if the UConn and Auburn games have anything in common, it’s that the bench provided very little value against high-end competition. And Indiana lost those two games by an average of 24 points.
Indiana has gotten good contributions from its bench. The reserves played a key role against Louisville and Michigan. Players like C.J. Gunn, Kaleb Banks and Anthony Walker have all shown they can make meaningful contributions.
But their contributions have not been predictable or consistent, so it seems reasonable to wonder whether their spots in the rotation should be. And it’s also not clear how often and to what extent those three and Payton Sparks should be on the floor together.
Perhaps staggering their minutes might be more effective? Perhaps the starters have more gas in the tank than Woodson realizes against elite opponents?
With Kansas on deck and the Big Ten behind that, it might be time to break away from doing it the same way every game.
For complete coverage of IU basketball, GO HERE.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”