To be a good NCAA Tournament squad, a team only needs seven good players. Sometimes even six will do. Having a deep bench is nice for the longer regular season, and it certainly sounds complementary when the television commentator says, “Yeah, Mark, they’ve got eight or nine guys who can really play.” But bench depth is an illusory comfort. A long rotation, more often than not, means a team probably lacks top end talent or that the fourth or fifth starters would be bench players on a better team. Deep rotations are for the weak.
In Baylor’s case this season, the rotation seems pretty obvious from the start. Scott Drew has two ball-handlers (Jake Lindsey, Manu Lecomte) two off-guards who can play on the wing (Al Freeman, King McClure), an Ish Wainright, a pair of reliable big men (Terry Maston, Johnathan Motley), and a player in Jo Acuil who could earn big minutes quickly if his performance lives up to his 7-3 wingspan. That’s eight players right there, just against the upper bound of dudes who can all get decent minutes over the course of a season.
And yet, when you look at the Bears’ bench, you realize Drew does have some tough choices to make. Wendell Mitchell sat out last season, but how long can Drew keep the sharpshooter off the floor? Then there’s top 100 recruit Mark Vital, who at 6-6, 220 is a freight train headed towards the rim. Not to mention Nuni Omot, who ranked as the top small forward prospect in junior college last season. Those three dudes will all be hungry for minutes. Is there any way they see the floor?
Omot would seem to have the best chance of the three, but it’s unclear what exactly he brings. At 6-9, he matches Motley in height but has the frame and skillset to play on the perimeter. He’s not exactly explosive, but he does look quick enough to be disruptive in Drew’s zone and to run in transition. He weighs only 205lb, which limits some of what he can do as an inside defender and rebounder. It also means opposing coaches can put a much smaller player on him without too much risk of seeing their 6-5 wing backed under the basket. Omot only attempted 1.5 threes per game with Indian Hills College, so unless he’s really worked on his shot, his perimeter frame isn’t exactly paired with a perimeter game. His length is tantalizing, and he has playing experience above the high school level, but his skills and body are at odds with one another, making it tough to project a consistent role for him on this team. If you can’t answer the question “What will he do well?”, it’s hard to justify playing him heavy minutes.
While you can answer that question for Mitchell, he has the misfortune of playing at Baylor’s most loaded position. There are simply too many quality guys ahead of him for the sophomore guard to show his stuff for more than the last two minutes of a blowout. That situation doesn’t seem likely to change, either, as Freeman is only a junior, McClure is also a sophomore, and freshman Tyson Jolly is coming up on his heels. If floor time is important to him, Mitchell might be best off transferring, although junior year breakouts aren’t unheard of.
If we’re looking for a player who will have both opportunity and whose game makes sense, Mark Vital looks like the candidate to stake a claim on. His game is unrefined on the perimeter, but when you have a 6-6, 220lb body, it’s alright to have a bit of a downhill game. Vital should find a roll cutting to the rim using back screens, and I bet he’s pretty fun to see go up with the ball in transition. Now, being a straightline player with zero college experience doesn’t make him a particularly unique player, but his game makes sense, and with the amount of shooting this team possesses, there will be cracks for him to blow open when defenders are scrambling to the three-point line.
Of course, all of this could be wasted breath. Baylor’s rotation is already strong, particularly at Mitchell’s position, and Lindsey’s ability to soak up small forward minutes as a backup could eliminate opportunity for both Omot and Vital.
Let’s say one of these three newbies gets some run, though. If Omot has some quirky scoring hitch in his game that allows him to be effective without an outside shot, then his JUCO experience could put him ahead of Vital. Barring Omot showing some 1980s inside skills, Vital seems like the dude who just makes sense.
Of course, AJ Walton once started over Pierre Jackson, so who says rotations need to make sense?