Northwestern’s Barret Benson generated a lot of intrigue in the lead up to his Freshman season. When he arrived on campus in Evanston, Wildcat fans knew that their new center had a lot of size and a lot of hair, but did not know much else. As the season got underway, Benson showed himself to be incredibly raw and limited early in non-conference play. However, an injury to starting center Dererk Pardon seven games into the season thrust the rookie into the starting lineup and afforded him significant minutes and opportunities to gain experience and adjust to the college game.
He did just that, improving steadily throughout the year on both ends of the floor to the point that he became a reliable option for Coach Chris Collins off the bench when his team was struggling with size and/or fouls. He still rarely played double digit minutes or was on the floor in important moments, but the vast growth that he showed from Mississippi Valley State to Gonzaga—where he had four points in eleven minutes—bodes very well for the rest of his career as a Wildcat.
The following numbers are taken from KenPom.com.
Benson’s defensive presence in his limited minutes is what stands out in his season numbers. His outstanding block percentage of 8.0 led the team, while his steal percentage of 2.1 was also second on the team to Isiah Brown. Any problems that Benson had defensively arose from the foul trouble that he tended to get himself into, displayed in his 7.8 fouls committed per 40 minutes which led the team.
Benson’s numbers also point to his massive offensive improvement as the season went on. In conference, his offensive rating, as well as his assist and usage rates, saw a significant increase, while his turnover rate saw a dramatic dip.
Overall, the freshman was the Wildcats’ second least used player offensively, and played the team’s second-lowest percentage of minutes ahead of only Jordan Ash.
The following numbers are taken from hoop-math.com.
First of all, it should be noted that Benson’s 44 field goal attempts, while still more than Ash managed, were well less than half of the figure that anyone else on the team put up this past season.
Of his limited offensive work, Benson did a surprising amount of it in the midrange, with 47.7 percent of his attempts coming from that area. He was not only active, but also highly effective in his in between game, making a team high 57.1 percent of his shots from there. Additionally, the fact that a bit under half of his midrange baskets were unassisted shows the merits of the rudimentary post-up game that the Freshman worked to develop throughout the year.
Benson’s all-around growth throughout the season was notable and constant, but it was mainly at the defensive end where he was able to truly make an impact as the Wildcats made history. With his size and physicality at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, he was someone that could be used off the bench to help neutralize some of the more menacing post threats of the Big Ten and elsewhere. When Pardon was either suffering from foul trouble or needed a breather, he was Collins’ first option for post defense off the bench. As he played more minutes, Benson became better and better at maintaining his discipline and verticality, being alert in his rotations, and being a consistent factor around the rim defensively.
In his first year playing at the college level, Benson was simply not quick enough or skilled enough to be a major contributor. He struggled to keep up with the pace of the game, cover the pick and roll, stay in front of quicker bigs without fouling, and on offense. He was only able to function as an impactful defensive player because he was given the luxury of eating up fouls at a high rate knowing that he would only play limited minutes, and although he was able to feature and contribute to a small degree on the offensive end by the end of the year, he went through large periods of not even being able to be trusted simply catching the ball as part of a set for fear that he would turn it over.
Benson needs to work on his quickness and overall athleticism to become a player capable of spending extended minutes on the floor in Big Ten play, and improvement in that area will come from rigorous offseason workouts to improve his core and lower body strength and his conditioning. Some toning up and revamping of his physique would go a long way towards making him a more dynamic athlete and allow him to more effectively utilize his sound defensive instincts and soft touch offensively to be a contributor on both ends for this team next year.
Considering how limited he was and how little he brought to the table in the first few games of his college career, Benson’s freshman season can be considered a success. He became a reliable defensive option for Chris Collins to use in big games against elite post players, and developed a nice understanding of how to fit into the offense on a rudimentary level and take his shots with confidence when they presented themselves from midrange. Benson certainly has a lot of potential, and with hard work in the weight room and on his overall fitness this offseason, he could be prepared to occupy a far more significant role for the Wildcats next season.