The box score in last night's loss to Saint Mary's had a consistent thread from this Gonzaga season. All of the Gonzaga starters were on the floor for over 30 minutes.
Only two bench players saw any time on the floor. Silas Melson logged 19 minutes and Ryan Edwards was on the floor for a mere three minutes. There hasn't been a Gonzaga team in memory that has been this shallow, and it is burning Gonzaga.
The major problem is, according to how Mark Few and the coaching staff run the minutes, much of our tiny bench hasn't developed enough to see meaningful time on the floor.
Ken Pomeroy has a statistic he calls "Bench Minutes." It is described as follows:
Computed by assuming that the starters' minutes are accounted for by the five players with most minutes played. Bench minutes are then assumed to be the minutes played by the remaining players, among those that play at least 10% of their teams minutes. This figure is divided by the starters' minutes plus bench minutes.
Gonzaga's bench minutes sit at 24.1 percent, good for No. 332 in the nation.
Right off the bat, we can attribute the season-ending injury to Przemek Karnowski as a key point here. The vaunted three-headed beast entering the season was reduced to a two-headed beast. That said, going from essentially a six-man rotation to a seven-man rotation doesn't exactly scream depth.
The Zags essentially lost 3/5 of their starting rotation from last season to this season (quick aside: with the Karnowski injury, it would be 4/5 of the starting rotation, but Sabonis basically could've started last season. So let's just call it 3/5). The big issue, however, is that there weren't the bodies to replace those three that left--literally. Gonzaga has three players permanently sitting on the bench because of transfers.
In games when the starters are pulling their weight, this doesn't matter much. But as we have seen in multiple games this season, there are plenty of times when the starters aren't pulling their weight. The major issue is that there just flat out isn't anyone to sub in when the time is right.
Against Saint Mary's, Kyle Wiltjer had a pretty quiet game offensively. He was also getting abused on pick and rolls and his defensive struggles shone brightly. Few at that point, only has two options: 1) switch to a four-guard lineup; 2) put in Edwards.
Edwards hasn't proved himself to be able to consistently stay on the court for any period of time. He averages 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes. Edwards has 44 fouls on the season in 239 minutes. For comparison, Wiltjer has 49 fouls in 939 minutes played. Edwards is also still a developing big man. He can come in for spells, but he isn't exactly the person you can bring off the bench to be an offensive spark. He is still a work in progress who hasn't quite developed his killer instinct for the hoop yet, as seen, quite painfully, below.
That leaves the four-guard lineup, which only became realistic as an option within the past couple of weeks now that Melson has emerged as more consistent scoring threat. Prior to that, however, your standard four-guard lineup would've looked like Wiltjer/Domantas Sabonis down low, Kyle Dranginis slotted the four and Melson, Josh Perkins and Eric McClellan as your guards.
One month ago, we would've screamed bloody murder at this lineup because Melson's offense was non-existant. For a team that can sometimes starve on the offensive end, the Zags just can't afford to trot out a player for extended minutes that was struggling to score as much as Melson was. Even if Wiltjer or Sabonis is struggling, the mindset is that they will be able to push through it in a game. Two months ago, when Melson would come in, many of us would collectively wince every time he took a shot.
Likewise, before Melson found his shot, the idea of Bryan Alberts occupying time in a four-guard lineup just wasn't optimal. Remember, going to four-guards would sort of be this last-ditch effort thing when the game wasn't going right. Alberts, for all of his three-point prowess, is still a liability on defense. Alberts is the only player on the team who has seen a decent chunk of minutes to post a defensive rating higher than 100. If you are pulling Wiltjer, inserting Alberts into the lineup isn't a long-term solution.
All of this came to a head last night. When Wiltjer struggled and Sabonis had a more human game, the Zags just don't have anyone to slot in and shoulder any burden. Few, as we all know, is stubborn in his ways, and last night, he should have at least tried something, anything. But the reality of the situation is that this team is limited in the number of options it has. It is a harsh reality, but it is the reality they will have to win the WCC Tournament in.