Just How Much Depth Should Florida Basketball Utilize?

One of the central themes surrounding what Coach White and his players had to say at media day was depth and the roster versatility they have with an entirely healthy squad who cover a range of skill sets. Depth hasn’t exactly been considered a strength of the Gators’ over the last few years with injuries to Keith Stone, John Egbunu, Chase Johnson, Gorjok Gak, Isaiah Stokes, and others hampering the lineup. With that looking to change this year it’s worth looking back at how White used his bench in the past to see what he might do with a few more weapons at his disposal this year.

Bench Usage Last Year

This might come as a surprise to you but the Gators were actually 143rd in the country in bench minutes. Considering that it seemed a whole lot like the starters were getting ran hard and there wasn’t always contributions from secondary pieces that kept them on the floor long when you look at the percentage of minutes given to bench players (31.6%) the Gators were 143rd.

There are lots of mid-major and low-major programs with smaller lineups due to scholarship restrictions due to budgets or redshirts due to the heavy transfer nature of lower levels of basketball so that it may not be fair to look at the Gators relative to every team in the country.

Out of the major six conferences the Gators were 22nd in bench minutes. So wait… the Gators actually used their bench a decent amount last year, even if it didn’t seem like it.

Mike White Bench Minutes

Here is how White’s teams have finished in percentage of minutes given to bench players. I’ll also include the record of the teams so you can have a bit of a picture of how that team did.

2019 Florida (20-16)
143rd

2018 Florida (21-13)
251st

2017 Florida (27-9)
73rd

2016 Florida (21-15)
104th

2015 Louisiana Tech (27-9)
304th

2014 Louisiana Tech (29-8)
63rd

2013 Louisiana Tech (27-7)
14th

2012 Louisiana Tech (18-16)
53rd

As you can see, White has been all over the place with bench minutes while sometimes that has been due to injury a lot of it is due to whether or not players have been worthy of commanding those minutes off the bench. Looking at the records, particularly while he was at Louisiana Tech, there are different ways to win. He went 27-7 using his bench a ton and he went 27-9 hardly touching his reserves. There doesn’t particularly appear to be a sweet spot of what works.

Bench Usage Around The Country

While looking at where Florida ranked among major six conference teams in bench minutes I found something really interesting. Here are the top 15 power six teams in bench minutes from the past season. If there is a number in brackets next to their name it’s what their seed was if they made the NCAA Tournament.

1. West Virginia
2. Rutgers
3. Georgia
4. Florida State (#4)
5. UCLA
6. Washington State
7. Missouri
8. Georgetown
9. Baylor (#9)
10. NC State
11. Alabama
12. Providence
13. Arizona
14. Stanford
15. Georgia Tech

Not a lot of success there. It actually appears that most of major conference teams that used their bench a lot and even only marginally more than the Gators, well, kinda sucked. Let’s see if that was a one-off year. Here are the same rankings from 2018.

1. Illinois
2. Colorado
3. Iowa
4. Texas Tech (#3)
5. Minnesota
6. Alabama (#9)
7. Oklahoma (#10)
8. Michigan State (#3)
9. Indiana
10. Oklahoma State
11. Vanderbilt
12. South Carolina
13. Texas A&M (#7)
14. Wake Forest
15. Creighton (#8)

That’s a bit better and is a bit more balanced between teams that really struggled and teams that were successful enough to go dancing. Let’s look at a few more to get more of a sample and see if there are any trends. Here’s 2017.

1. Michigan State (#9)
2. Iowa
3. Tennessee
4. Oklahoma
5. Florida State (#3)
6. Utah
7. Alabama
8. Marquette (#10)
9. Virginia (#5)
10. Missouri
11. West Virginia (#4)
12. Arkansas (#8)
13. Illinois
14. Georgia
15. Georgetown

Now 2016:

1. Missouri
2. Michigan State (#2)
3. West Virginia (#3)
4. Oklahoma State
5. Washington State
6. Purdue (#5)
7. Texas (#6)
8. Minnesota
9. Indiana (#5)
10. Auburn
11. Colorado (#8)
12. Boston College
13. St. John’s
14. Arizona (#6)
15. Pittsburgh (#10)

And lastly, 2015:

1. West Virginia (#5)
2. Colorado
3. Georgia Tech
4. Texas (#11)
5. Florida
6. Texas Tech
7. Kentucky (#1)
8. Mississippi State
9. Creighton
10. Michigan
11. Missouri
12. USC
13. Utah (#5)
14. Ole Miss (#11)
15. Arkansas (#5)

It starts to even out a bit but still generally speaking there aren’t a lot of great teams to get high seeds while using their bench a lot. There are some exceptions, don’t get me wrong, but seeing Michigan State and West Virginia getting high seeds a couple times while always being up at the top of bench minutes speaks to a very particular style and the only time Kentucky got in the top of bench minutes was in their famous “platoon” year and there is still a lot of debate about whether or not that was the best way to deploy that mega talented lineup.

What is Florida looking to do with the amount of talent they have on the roster? Make a Final Four. In the journey to doing so, and looking at their schedule, they’ll be hunting for a 1 or 2 seed. Unfortunately, outside of teams playing their bench a lot institutionally every year like Michigan State, Texas Tech, and West Virginia or getting a once in a lifetime recruiting class and platooning them like Kentucky did there simply aren’t really examples of teams suddenly playing their bench a ton and having lots of success.

Speaking of using your bench institutionally it should be noted that Michigan State has used their bench more than just about every team in college basketball over the last decade but in their three Final Fours here is where they ranked in bench usage:

2019: 195th
2015: 188th
2010: 138th

Even though Tom Izzo wants to use his bench a ton his best teams have relied mostly on his starters.

Final Four Teams’ Bench Usage

If the Gators are looking for a Final Four this year they should look at what some other Final Four teams have done recently. When you look at these rankings I’ll remind you once again that last season the Gators were 143rd.

2019

Virginia: 317th
Texas Tech: 297th
Michigan State: 195th
Auburn: 151st

2018

Villanova: 302nd
Michigan: 249th
Kansas: 345th
Loyola-Chicago: 147th

2017

North Carolina: 69th
Gonzaga: 183rd
Oregon: 245th
South Carolina: 152nd

2016

Villanova: 217th
North Carolina: 142nd
Oklahoma: 329th
Syracuse: 350th

2015

Duke: 310th
Wisconsin: 344th
Kentucky: 27th
Michigan State: 188th

Is depth overrated? It just might be. Here’s the thing—there just haven’t been many great teams over recent history that have rolled out a lot of guys. When you study the rosters of Final Four teams they mostly are 8 deep with a reliable guard, wing, and big man off the bench. From a Gators’ standpoint I think this needs to be kept in mind when it comes how many healthy bodies they have and when it comes to how many different lineups they could hypothetically roll out.

Do benches matter? Absolutely. You need that sixth and seventh and probably that eighth guy to all be competent and able to contribute. The thing is, it’s not often your ninth-to-thirteenth guys are often going to be contributors, that is, if you’re going to be a Final Four team. That is the goal for the Gators and if they want to be a Final Four team you’ve got to look at common traits of teams that have accomplished that recently.

For the best teams in college basketball the last few years it hasn’t been the lack of quality depth that has resulted in them using their bench less than most other teams but the great success of a starting group that has commanded a lot of minutes together. If the Gators really end up using their bench a lot more than the Final Four teams of the last five years there is a decent chance it’s not because their depth is so good, it’s that the starters haven’t been good enough.

Functionally, this study would point to the Gators needing to find one central lineup and rotation that works and not rely on having a bevvy of different 5-man units that could be rolled out. With all the pieces the Gators have it could be tempting to throw a changeup and have some of your depth pieces the opposition aren’t expecting enter the mix but once again, that hasn’t appeared to have worked for Final Four teams in the past.

For the Gators this mostly relates to the frontcourt. While there will be a bit of competition for minutes at the point that Ques Glover is going to try to pry away from Mann it’s likely that those pieces are all going to fall into place naturally since there isn’t as many perimeter options. For the big men, however, there is going to be a lot of ways things could go. Playing two traditional centers and sliding Keyontae Johnson to the 3 or keeping only one big man around Johnson or Scottie Lewis at the 4 will give a lot of options as Gorjok Gak, Dontay Bassett, Omar Payne, and Jason Jitoboh battle behind Kerry Blackshear Jr. Rolling through these guys may seem like a fun option but when it gets to January and February I do think there needs to be some form of semi-solid rotation in place that gives some continuity to the players and allows rhythm and chemistry to form.

You could look at how depth has been for great teams as of late or you could bank on doing something different but I’m going to side with history on this one. Finding a trio of players who can thrive in roles off the bench is going to more fruitful than going deeper into the bench just because you can and in the NCAA Tournament that continuity should be rewarded. Players can slump or get into foul trouble and worse, players can get injured and Florida’s depth is going to be great in those scenarios but a compact rotation of the team’s best contributors could be what powers them to a deep run in March.

Eric Fawcett
Eric hails from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His blend of sports and comedy has landed his words on ESPN, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, Lindy's and others. He loves zone defenses, the extra pass, and a 30 second shot clock. Growing up in Canada, an American channel showing SEC basketball games was his first exposure to Gator hoops, and he has been hooked ever since. You can follow him on Twitter at @Efawcett7.