This season, the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball Team has emerged as the prohibitive favorite for the National Title. Meanwhile, in NCAC action, the Wittenberg Tigers have finally hit a stride mid-way through the season (with the only loss coming narrowly at the hands of the first place Wooster Fighting Scots). Both teams’ successes have come while using an unusual substitution pattern known as the “Platoon System.”
The Platoon System divides the typical 10-man rotation into two distinct squads. This leads to pre-scheduled mass substitutions and a crowded area in front of the scorers’ table. However, some Tiger fans have begun to wonder: is the recent run of the team attributable to the shift in substitution pattern, or is it merely coincidence that the mid-season surge for the Tigers happened after the team made changes in strategy?
Defenders of the Platoon System have offered several rationale for the use of the system. First among these defenses holds that the more conscious substitution pattern allows coaches to ensure their best players receive more playing time. This has not been the case for the Wittenberg Tigers. Prior to the implementation of the Platoon System, the Tiger starters played on average 121 of the 200 available minutes, 40 minutes for each of the five positions.
That begs the question: has the Platoon System led to the win streak for the exact opposite reason? And, has the additional four minutes of rest for the starting five given the Tigers an edge in high-pressure situations at the end of the game? It should also be noted that the Platoon System allows not just for the four extra minutes of rest in game time, but the pre-scheduled nature of the substitutions allows coaches to align the substitutions with other stoppages in play (timeouts, half time, etc.), maximizing the actual time starters sit while minimizing the game time those players sit. There has been a noticeable effect after switching to the Platoon System for the Tigers. Prior to making the switch, the Tigers had a negative point differential in the second half, but since making the shift, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by 24 down the stretch.
Still another touted benefit of the Platoon System, often cited by its supporters, is the concept of familiarity. Because players are virtually always on the floor with the same group, familiarity will spark better play. While attempting to measure this theory, it is difficult to avoid tautology; the Platoon System makes teams play better because when using it they play better.
While shooting percentage should be generally unaffected, the number of assists and limiting of turnovers are signs of familiarity. Furthermore, one would think that the impact would be seen more on the second platoon: bench players would finally get the chance to play with a consistent group. However, this explanation is merely theoretical. In practice, the Tigers’ bench has averaged 5.25 turnovers per game since moving to the Platoon System while only averaging 4.4 in games prior.
In conclusion, despite the Tigers’ uptick in performance since making the switch to the Platoon System, the typical justification for the substitution pattern does not bear out in the peripheral statistics. However, the extra rest the Platoon System has granted starters has possibly led to better second halves for the Tigers.