Importance of the Bench and the Line

The college basketball landscape is changing and successful teams must be rooted at the free throw line and blossoming in production off the bench.

This past summer the NCAA Rules Oversight Panel made several changes to the way several rules were emphasized for the purpose of trying to create more scoring since scoring was at a 30 year low last season with teams averaging with team averaging 67.6 points per game.

The tweaks to foul calling include changes in how a blocking/charging call is called as well as what constitutes a defensive foul.

In past seasons, a defender had to be in legal guarding position by the time the offensive player lifted off the floor in order to draw a charge against the offensive player. Now the rule reads slightly differently so that the defender has to be in legal guarding position prior to the offensive player starting his upward motion toward a shot or a pass.

The change in the wording of this rule makes it harder for defensive players to draw charging fouls against offensive players.

Additionally the NCAA has put an emphasis on allowing less contact between defenders and offensive players.

Due to these new wordings in rules to favor offensive players, it quickly became clear that there were going to be more fouls called and hence more coaches needing to manage foul problems this season then in prior seasons.

It also has become clear that the successful teams over the course of this season are going to be teams that have depth and are able to get production from their bench or were at least able to use their bench to keep the team in games while the starters rested either for the purposes of staying fresh or to avoid getting deeper into foul trouble as games progressed.

It is also clear that successful teams are not only going to get to the free throw line but they are going to convert those extra free throws into points to make opponents pay the maximum penalty for committing fouls.

In going thru the conference games for the Panthers to this point in the season, their success in winning or losing has been directly related to how much production the team gets from their bench and how the team has fared at the free-throw line in relationship to their opponents.

In the conference opener at home against Youngstown State, the Panthers got minimal scoring production from their bench but did get 6 rebounds from Sophomore JJ Panoske in his 12 minutes played off the bench. The key factor in the Panthers winning this game was that they converted 25 of 31 free throws while Youngstown State only shot 20 total free throws.

Two nights later the Panthers lost at home to Cleveland State. The Panthers tried to address having to work on a short turnaround by playing their bench for 45 minutes but the bench ended up scoring 4 points on the night and shooting 1 for 9 on field goals. Cleveland State on the other hand had their bench shoot a combined 7 of 12 on field goals and score 18 points in winning the game over the Panthers by 28 points.

The Panthers then got a few days to rest and practice before playing their first conference road game of the season. The Panthers got back in the win column thanks in large part to their bench. The Panthers got 22 points from their bench highlighted by Freshman Cody Wichmann scoring 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Wichmann played a large role in the Panthers victory as his point total almost single handedly topped the bench production of 15 points that the Grizzlies got from their various bench players.

The Panthers returned home a few days later and took on in-state rival Green Bay. The game was close and hard fought throughout. The Panthers had a 7 point lead with three and a half minutes left and abruptly lost it as Green Bay forced overtime. Then in the overtime, the Panthers were outscored 11 to 4 as Green Bay pulled away for a big road victory. Playing a factor in the Panthers defeat on this day was that the Panthers got a total of 4 points from their bench all afternoon as all five Milwaukee starters had to play at least 38 minutes to keep the Panthers in the game. The fact that the Panthers lost the lead late in regulation and only scored 4 points in overtime could have been a result of the Panthers starters being tired from playing a high minute total.

The Panthers again returned to win column on the road a few nights later again thanks in large part to their bench production. The Panthers outscored the flames bench by a total of 19 to 13 for the game. The Panthers again got big contributions from Cody Wichmann who was 4-4 from the field for 11 points and Malcolm Moore who was 4 of 7 from the field for 8 points.

UWM then hit the roughest part of their conference season, losing the next three games all by double digits. In the loss to Valparaiso the Panther’s bench was outscored 25 to 3. The bench shot a combined 1 for 13 from the floor. In the game against Wright State, the Panther’s bench was again outscored by a significant margin of 33 to 10. In the game against Detroit at home a few night later the Panthers were able to get production from their bench as it scored almost half of the teams points for the night. The Panthers downfall on this particular night occurred at the free-throw line where UWM shot only 14 of 25 from the line for a team percentage of 56 percent.

The Panthers returned home for a rematch with Wright State but this time found a way to beat the Raiders. The Panthers got 12 points from Malcolm Morre, who provided the energy for a big UWM run during the first half. Also key to this victory was the face that the Panthers got back to winning the battle at the free-throw line by making more free throws (19) then Wright State attempted (17). In rematch against Oakland a few nights later Milwaukee was able to get significant playing time and production from the bench as the Panthers won easily. The Panther’s bench played a total of 56 minutes while scoring 14 points.

The Panthers then had almost a full week to rest and prepare for their most recent game, a much anticipated rematch with Green Bay. The result was different this time as the Panthers got 8 points 6 rebounds and 3 blocks from Malcolm Moore in 27 minutes of play. The other significant factor in the win was the Panthers shot 17 of 21 from the free throw line good for an 81% conversion rate.

It remains important for the Panthers to continue to get bench production and convert from the free-throw line as the Horizon League season enters the final month as they have been two critical categories for the Panthers to be successful.

Every win is critical to the Panthers because it will mean a better placement in the conference tournament. The higher the Panthers finish in the standings the more rest they will get before playing their first game in the conference tournament. The teams that finish 7-9 in the conference will have to go on the road for first road game at the locations of the 4-6 finishers. The team that finishes third will get a bye to the second round of the tournament to play the winner of the 6 and 7 game. The teams that get the #1 and #2 seeds get byes into the semifinals of the tournament. More wins for Panthers down the stretch will equal more rest, more practice time to prepare for the tournament and less wear and tear on the players bodies. If the Panthers continue to work now both off the bench and at the free throw line it will lessen the work the Panthers have to do in order to make the NCAA tournament down the road.


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