Saturday, May 1, 2010

Showing Off Benson

Last summer, Keith Benson was invited to participate in a summer camp hosted by the NBA's Amare Stoudemire for promising big men in the college ranks. There is no doubt that Kito's participation here helped bring some exposure to the big man from the small school. He worked out amongst the likes of Greg Monroe (Georgetown), Larry Sanders (VCU), Jerome Jordan (Tulsa), and Cole Aldrich (Kansas) - all potential draft picks in June's NBA draft. During the regular season, Benson was dominant against Aldrich, holding the future NBA baller to 4 points on 2 for 10 shooting. While Kansas' runaway win limited Cole's minutes in the second half, anyone who remembers the game knows Benson had an affect on his play during the first half.

It was after this game when scouts and NBA draft experts started to take notice of Benson since this was considered his first big game against legitimate competition. The only other time Kito faced a touted big man was against Charles Garcia of Seattle (5 points in 20 minutes), but he was covered by other OU defenders as well. Benson may have been tested by Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku in late December, but he played just five short minutes due to injury. The next test with superior competition came in the biggest stage of them all, the NCAA Tournament, against Pittsburgh. Benson had an amazing offensive game scoring 28 points, 10 of those from the charity stripe. Pitt's big, Gary McGhee, had a solid game for a team that received most of its scoring from its guards.

It has become clear over the past few months that NBA scouts and draft experts draw up much of their analysis based on performances against other players with NBA potential. This is why the Aldrich match-up is so highly referenced. Now that Benson has withdrawn from this year's draft, Greg Kampe and his staff have vowed to do everything they can to get the Oakland center to the next level. Paramount in this process is scheduling a few out-of-conference games against teams with physical big men who are already on the radar of NBA personnel. With that said, let's take a look at a couple of match-ups that would do well in showing off Benson's capabilities.

The Likely, Yet Unlikely

Devin Ebanks - West Virginia University
- Ebanks is a 6-9 forward who would be entering his junior year in Morgantown. The catch is that he has declared for this year's draft already, but has shown up on more than a few lists as one of those guys who would benefit from another year in school. Assuming he comes back, it is very likely that OU would be playing WVU this coming season as this match-up has been rumored since the end of the NCAAs. Ebanks is more comfortable than Benson on the perimeter and is capable of making his own play from 10-15 feet away from the basket. Kampe has talked about trying to give Benson more opportunities with his face to the basket, so guarding Ebanks would be a great way to see how he stacks up against a similar-bodied player with NBA potential. Likewise, Ebanks could stand to improve his post play and needs to prove he can be physical in the paint. Seems like a match-up made in heaven for scouts. It would likely happen if Ebanks stays, but it appears unlikely that will happen at this juncture.

JaJuan Johnson - Purdue University
- Johnson's decision to enter the draft early was a surprise to most. It was thought amongst most college basketball arbiters that Johnson would come back for his senior season with E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel to give Purdue a three-headed monster destined for a Final Four appearance. Instead, both he and Moore declared early but without agents. So the door is still open for Johnson to withdraw his name (before May 8) and make possible this match-up with Benson as Purdue is another opponent that has more or less been unofficially confirmed for next year's schedule. Johnson is another guy who, like Ebanks, can play in the post in college simply because of his height, but will likely need to rely more on his perimeter skills and athleticism to get by in the NBA. Because of this, he's not the perfect match-up for Benson to showoff his post moves, but he is a good one for him to show he can guard guys with athleticism and skills that aren't anchored in the paint. Johnson's draft decision could go either way at this point, but my best bet is that we'll see him back at Purdue next year on what should be a loaded team. When the schedule is released, let's hope OU is making a trip to West Lafayette.

The Other High Majors

Draymond Green/Derrick Nix - Michigan State University
- It is almost a lock that OU plays MSU every year, so we can reasonably expect to see this match-up in 2010-11. Green is no lock for a double-double, yet he did it last season against OU and Benson. While Benson had a double-double of his own, it'd be becoming of him as a top performer to shut-down a guy with a bit more bulk, if not only around the waist. Nix is also a heavy guy who looks to slim down this summer in his attempt to be a more productive performer for Tom Izzo. Benson will get his shot at the MSU bigs as always, and while neither have NBA scouts watching as much as Benson, it's still a shot to prove he's got what it takes to shut down big program players.

Jared Sullinger - Ohio State University
- I have never seen Sullinger play, but everyone and their mother is in love with this guy's ability in the paint and his physicality. He is expected to start for the Buckeyes in his freshman year and is likely a one-and-done center for Thad Matta like BJ Mullens and Greg Oden before him. At 6-10 and over 250 pounds, he is bound to be a tough guy to guard on size alone. And if he has the skills and abilities that are being touted by the talking heads, then look for this guy to be in the same vein as DeMarcus Cousins. If such a match-up were to occur, one would hope that Benson's athleticism and wisdom would overwhelm the youngster. It'd also serve as motivation to show that a senior who has honed his skills over four years would be better able to make an immediate impact on an NBA squad than a one-and-doner. Considering OU's location and tendency to play Big 10 teams, a game against tOSU is possible but has not been rumored as of yet.

The Mid-Majors

Eli Holman - University of Detroit
This match-up would mean so much on so many levels. U of D will be loaded next year with Holman in the paint and McDonald's All-American Ray McCallum, Jr. running the point. These two teams have not played in quite some time, so a renewed home-and-home series would surely fuel the competitive spirit of metro-Detroit. Holman is a big time player himself; maybe not on many NBA draft boards, but still respected for his interior presence. He had himself a number of solid games last year and looks to improve this year. Holman-Benson would be the match-up of the the match-up. Let's hope it happens!

Brandon Bowdry/Matt Balkema - Eastern Michigan University
This one might draw some frazzled looks from readers, but rest assured, this one needs to - and if history is correct, most likely will - happen. Last season, OU started the year off with a home game against the Eagles, and they lost. It was a shocking blow to lose to a team OU had beaten several times before with many of the same pieces. OU's big-three all put up big numbers, but there were times when the Golden Grizzly big men had trouble with EMU's size. Brandon Bowdry went off for 26/13 and beastly Matt Balkema pushed around Benson whenever he was on the court. There probably isn't much to prove to scouts in a game like this, but rest assured that OU fans want to see a dominating performance from Benson and the OU squad as a hole after last year's disappointing loss.

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