The bench of No. 5 Oregon has evolved from a weakness into a strength. At moments during this season, head coach Dana Altman minimized his roster to a 7-man rotation, especially against elite competition. At the risk of burning out your stars, bench depth is essential to a teams success.
UO’s head man played 11 Ducks on Thursday against ASU in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinal stage.
You don’t lead your teams to 20 straight years of winning basketball without understanding players. Altman realizes every season unfolds differently, but expansion of his roster is essential to team success. His patience is beginning to pay large dividends.
Chris Boucher has been the largest addition to the bench mob this season. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize his impact. He should be the NCAA Sixth Man of the Year.
The SI cover boy started all but three games last season on a team that went to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. Not to mention, Boucher broke the Duck record with 110 rejections last season.
The unselfish Boucher took the demotion in stride, handling it with positivity. Most players would sulk during their senior year, especially after posing for Sports Illustrated’s College Basketball Preview prior to the start of the season.
Ego is no issue with this young phenom.
“You experience more of the game, but I felt like it didn't really change what I had to do,” said Boucher. “I still have to rebound, block shots and have a lot of energy."
Altman has limited Boucher’s time on the floor by two minutes less per game from 2015-16. As you can see, the numbers are almost identical. Coincidently, No. 5 Oregon’s sterling 28-4 record is the highest winning percentage in program history.
The Montreal native is the only player in Pac-12 history to record 100 blocked shots and 35 triples in the same season. Additionally, Boucher never lost a game at home during his 2-year Duck career (35-0) from Matthew Knight Arena.
Like Boucher, Casey Benson has handled his move to the bench with complete class. The junior guard started every game for Oregon in 2015-16. This season, he has accepted a smaller role. Not to mention, he’s lost nearly eight minutes per game in a secondary role to a true freshman.
Last year, Benson was a national leader with his stellar assist-to-turnover ratio (117-24). The other CB has turned the ball over 27 times this season with less touches (70-27). Yet, Benson has been crucial off the bench.
The Tempe native is averaging 5.1 PPG, 2.2 APG, 1.7 RPG in just 21.0 MPG. UO can always count on him to drill a 3-pointer or two.
Benson finished with 14 points in Oregon’s season finale win against Oregon State, 80-59. For large stretches this season, Altman has ONLY trusted Benson off the bench at the guard position.
Two former starters on the bench is a large reason for Oregon’s success in 2016-17. But, seven bodies can only take you so far. Altman needed reinforcements.
The offseason was highlighted by the signing of the Spalding National Junior College Player of the Year in Kavell Bigby-Williams. KBW averaged 16.8 PPG, 13.6 RPG and an outstanding 5.9 BPG for Gillette College in Wyoming. Many compare him to Boucher with the JuCo background. Yet, he reminds me more of Jordan Bell.
KBW has taken some time to develop, but he is finally starting to establish a role for himself. He has played at least nine minutes or more in three of his last five games.
The 4-star commit played just four minutes during the Ducks win over Arizona State on Thursday. However, he is becoming more active when on the floor. He scored two points, blocked a shot and went to the charity stripe after drawing a foul.
“We've got the best shot blockers in the country with Jordan, Chris and Kavell,” Payton Pritchard said. “Us guards really have to pressure them and take away easy threes and easy little 15-footers. If we do that, the rest will take care of itself.”
If Jordan Bell or Boucher fall into foul trouble, Altman can trust KBW to know his role this postseason. Regardless, every player that enters the lane must be aware of his presence. KBW is a shot-blocker and just as important, a shot-alterer.
He may not be as skilled as Boucher, but he’s a different kind of beast. The Pac-12 better watch out for him in 2017-18.
Roman Sorkin has nearly doubled his minutes this season. The junior from Israel is still learning his craft, but his talent is unquestionable. The 6-foot, 10-inch forward can bury a triple from deep or mix it up down low to grab a rebound. This year, he is averaging 3.3 PPG, 1.9 RPG, including 93 percent shooting from the line in 8.1 MPG.
The Israeli has played in three of the last five Oregon games. He scored three points or more in all three performances. Sorkin is 4-for-5 from the floor and 2-for-3 from downtown during that stretch. He has shown the ability to play solid in small stretches thus far.
Sorkin scored four points on 2-for-2 from the floor against ASU in the Pac-12 Tournament on Thursday.
Seattle native Keith Smith hasn't made the impact he envisioned. Yet, the freshman has been battling a lingering knee injury from high school this year. It seems as if he is past it now and ready to focus on the next step with the Ducks.
The 3-star recruit has shown flashes of potential at the guard position. Many believed he would not return to the floor until next season. However, Smith worked himself back onto the court for 2016-17.
Smith scored a season-high 15 points against Savannah State.
He has played just four minutes in March, yet that is a positive sign from where he was a month ago. Now, Altman actually has an insurance policy at guard behind Benson.
30 days ago, we were discussing the limited bench of Oregon and how the stars could wear down with no rest over the madness of March. As the bench develops, the team is headed in the right direction at the most opportune time. Only time will tell what type of impact this deepening roster is ready to make during the stretch run.
No. 1 Oregon (28-4) will face No. 5 Cal (21-11) for the third time this season on Friday. The Golden Bears will be trying to avoid the sweep, alongside vying for a spot in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
In their last match-up, Dillon Brooks clinically finished the Bears in Berkeley. His game-winning triple with 0.2 seconds handed UO the win, 68-65, and secured the first part of Oregon’s Bay Area sweep.
Tip is set for 6:00 p.m. PCT from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.