Barret Benson’s sophomore season looked a lot like his freshman season. Playing behind Dererk Pardon at the center position, Benson saw his minutes increase negligibly (from 8 per game to 9.6) and his production stay the same. He appeared in every single game, though generally only to spell Pardon briefly; Benson played single-digit minutes in 13 of 19 Big Ten games. Then, at the end of a lost season, the former high three-star recruit finally had his chance to shine and took full advantage of it. He closed out the year with big games against Iowa and Penn State, offering a tantalizing look at what he can do when given significant minutes. With Pardon still around for his final season in 2018-19, it seems unlikely that those significant minutes will happen consistently until 2019-20, Benson’s senior year.
The following numbers are taken from KenPom.com.
Drawing conclusions from Benson’s stats is difficult, simply because of the limited sample size. His standard numbers of 1.8 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game don’t say much, and neither do the advanced numbers above. The two main things that stick out are the two things Benson has to cut down on to improve: turnovers and fouls. 8.6 fouls per 40 minutes is astronomically high, and his turnover rate was also the worst on the team.
For the season, Benson made 18 of 25 shots at the rim. Most of those were dunks or putbacks, but he also converted a few post moves. That 72 percent was the best on the team, just above Pardon’s 68 percent (with a much larger sample size). Benson was just 3 of 13 on all other shot attempts. He actually has a decent-looking shooting stroke, so developing the midrange jumper we’ve seen Pardon improve upon will be big for Benson’s potential over the next two years.
Speaking of potential, Benson still has plenty of it. At 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, he has the size to bang in the paint with Big Ten centers on both ends of the floor. And if what we saw over this season’s final two games is any indication, Benson has some serious talent, too. In the final regular season game of the year, Benson played 25 impressive minutes in Iowa City. He made all four of his shots from the field, grabbed 10 rebounds, and added 3 blocks, 2 assists, and a steal. Then he made his first career start in the Big Ten Tournament game against Penn State and showed that the Iowa game wasn’t a fluke, recording 9 points, 9 boards, and 3 more blocks, including this highlight:
Nah. Not in Barret Benson's house. pic.twitter.com/b4jNGG3uLb— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) March 2, 2018
What was most interesting about those last two games was how well Benson played alongside Pardon. The two had only briefly seen the floor together before that, but Chris Collins gave it an extended look and the results were mostly positive. Against Penn State, the two bigs kept Northwestern in the game.
Benson has spent the first half of his career as a low-usage backup for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that he’s a year behind Pardon, who has for the most part earned all of his 31 minutes per game over the past two seasons. Pardon doesn’t have the raw size of Benson, but has proven to be a very effective low-block player on both ends of the floor. He was arguably Northwestern’s best player in 2017-18 and will be leaned on heavily next year. The other is that Benson hasn’t done enough with his playing time to cut into Pardon’s minutes. As I mentioned earlier, fouls and turnovers have been major issues. Benson has the potential to be an excellent defender, as evidenced by his six blocks in the last two games, but he has yet to learn how to consistently defend without fouling. Benson committed 4 or 5 fouls seven times this season. In six of those games, he played 14 minutes or fewer. He has to continue to work on his defensive positioning and how to stay vertical and contest shots without a whistle being blown. On the offensive end, he had 18 turnovers and just 14 assists. He doesn’t need to be a fantastic passer, but if he is going to play alongside Pardon at all next season, those numbers will have to improve. Benson just hasn’t done any one thing well enough to expand his role yet.
Benson will have plenty to work on this offseason. On offense, footwork and finishing out of the post will be important focuses. If he can become consistent with the jump hook, that will pay major dividends for his offense like it did for Pardon this year. Shooting above 60 percent from the line and knocking down a few midrange jumpers would also be positive steps in Benson’s development. On defense, it’s all about avoiding fouls. Continuing to become quicker and more agile would help greatly on both ends.
The Bottom Line:
Benson has had a very uneventful career since his commitment to Northwestern over the likes of Indiana and Purdue generated much fanfare. However, he still has two years to change the narrative around his career. Next season will be about maximizing his production when spelling Pardon and perhaps playing alongside him some. In 2019-20, though, the paint will be all his. Benson has a lot of work to do to get ready for that season, but his two most recent games offer hope that he will get there.