If one thing stuck out after Indiana's 88-81 victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers today in Assembly Hall, it was the lack of production from the Hoosiers' deep bench.
Entering the season, the Hoosiers had the deepest team in the country. They could rival any team historically from 1-13 with talent. Unfortunately, the NCAA ruled freshmen Hanner Perea and Peter Jurkin ineligible for the first nine games of the season. After Perea and Jurkin returned, Maurice Creek and Austin Etherington went down with injuries. In addition, senior Derek Elston was out until the Hoosiers' December 15th game against Butler with an injury of his own.
Don't forget that freshman Jeremy Hollowell had to sit out a few games over Christmas break due to eligibility concerns.
Entering Big Ten play, though, the Hoosiers were near full strength. Currently, all but Creek and Etherington have returned, and Indiana should be able to exploit teams with its 11-man rotation.
Today, though, head coach Tom Crean didn't play Elston or Jurkin for some reason. The Hoosiers used a nine-man rotation, which still is good, but got little production from the bench.
Outside of a few Will Sheehey hustle plays to save the ball from going out of bounds, Indiana got nothing from its reserves. Sheehey, Perea, Hollowell and Remy Abell combined to score three total points. The starters scored the remaining 85.
Considering the talent those four guys possess, it's inexcusable for them to combine for just three points on 0-of-8 shooting from the field. The three points came at the line, where all four went a combined 3-of-6. In addition, they combined for only four rebounds, zero assists and three turnovers.
Those numbers are going to get Indiana beaten on the road this year.
These guys are capable of having huge games. Sheehey averaged 12.1 ppg entering today's game, while Abell (6.5 ppg) should also have been a factor. I know things will change, and this should be the first and last game with the bench failing to produce.
The Hoosiers play the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday night at 9 PM on ESPN. The Badgers are a big, physical team, and Indiana will need to utilize Perea more and get Elston more time. Sheehey is too good of a scorer to be shut out again, and Abell should bounce back as well.
The bench woes need to turn around, as the Hoosiers should have the best bench in the country. It's time they start playing like it.