Although Seattle University suffered a 77-68 defeat at the hands of a taller Oakland University, they at least gave Seattle basketball fans a treat: a close game that featured high-flying alley oops and two rising junior NBA prospects.
While the buzz about SeattleU forward Charles Garcia has been building to the point that NBA draft site DraftExpress.com has him ranked as one of the top 25 prospects in the country, Oakland University boasts an NBA prospect of their own in 6'11" 221 pound center Keith Benson, currently ranked #25 in NBADraft.net's rankings. Ironically, neither draft site has both players ranked in their top 60.
On the surface, Benson made NBADraft.net look wiser last night as he definitely got the better of the matchup, leaving with a win and turning in one of the game's top performances. Conversely, Garcia fouled out on a questionable call with 3:52 left after having a sub par 1-6 shooting effort. In the final minute with Garcia looking on, it was Benson who made a key play to seal the victory for his team.
With just under a minute left and Oakland University up by 2, SeattleU guard Chris Gweth drove down the middle of the key and was met by Benson. Gweth passed the ball off to forward Aaron Broussard who seemingly had a wide-open layup to tie the game. However, rather than a defensive lapse, it was an opportunity for Benson to show his mobility and timing as a shot blocker.
"He jumped and contested Chris when he passed it, but he got back over real quick to contest my shot," said Broussard.
Benson not only contested the shot but got over quick enough to get a block that effectively sealed the game for Oakland.
Benson's shot blocking presence in the post on defense was a factor that heavily influenced SeattleU's performance throughout the game. While he "only" finished with 5 blocks, he was also able to use his height, length, and athleticism to alter several other shots, forcing SeattleU players to take an array of difficult fadeaways, floaters, and generally off-balance shots in the lane. Benson demonstrates outstanding timing in challenging shots and he was also mobile enough to get out and challenge shots on the perimeter out to the three point line.
Although his 4 fouls might suggest that he was over aggressive in the paint, he picked up two of those fouls swiping at the ballhandlers in the backcourt after SeattleU secured a rebound or steal and his fourth foul was a loose ball foul on a rebound. In other words, he's quite proficient at altering shots without picking up fouls in the process of doing so.
Defensively, it was clear that Benson "definitely" had an effect on the SeattleU offense, as SeattleU coach Cameron Dollar would later say after the game. However, he struggled a bit offensively -- especially in the second half -- consistent with a description of his game from DraftExpress.
DraftExpress NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Keith Benson, Stats, Comparisons, and Outlook
On the downside, Benson’s frame can be a major hindrance already at the college level, as he lacks the bulk to establish and hold great position on the block, particularly against the more physically developed prospects he’ll occasionally (but rarely) encounter. He struggles to finish through contact and gets pushed around with relative ease, often being forced to attempt some weak/awkward fade-aways as he’s moved outside of his comfort zone.
The problem with holding position could really apply to both Benson and Garcia. The difference is that the lack of bulk probably has a bigger affect on Benson's game simply because he's more of a traditional post player whereas Garcia's skills on the perimeter make him a much more versatile NBA prospect.
"Don't let the lottery pick get the ball!"
As Draftexpress previously observed about Benson's game, he had problems establishing position on the block, regardless of who was guarding him -- whether he was being guarded by Garcia, 6'8" 215 pound backup center Alex Jones or 6'5" 205 pound Aaron Broussard, Benson struggled to establish position on the block throughout the game. While it's a problem that doesn't immediately show up in the final box score, there are two statistical hints at his struggle to establish himself, hold position, and finish on the block: his 3-11 second half shooting performance and his five turnovers for the game.
Yes, SeattleU did play a swarming defense that double or triple teamed Benson whenever he received the ball in addition to preventing him from establishing position so as to make it hard for him to get the ball. On an inbounds play with 10:35 left in the second Dollar could be heard yelling, "Don't let the lottery pick get the ball!"
"[We were] trying not to let him get the ball in a good spot to score and get him off the block," said Broussard, who was guarding Benson with the game tied with 2:22 left in the second half.
However, Benson did manage to get off 11 shots in the second half despite the defensive pressure from SeattleU. Those 11 shots weren't jumpshots either, but primarily contested layups in the paint in which he missed putbacks and "weak/awkward" layups, further reinforcing the assertion of the DraftExpress critique.
Benson really struggled to get good shots off, especially when he received the ball against players bigger than Broussard. Alex Jones was stubborn in his refusal to allow Benson to establish position inside, forcing Benson to try to maneuver around him and take a wild one handed fadeaway shot in the paint rather than going up strong on a play with 12:14 left in the second half. With 10:35 left, 6'8" reserve forward Gavin Gilmore not only prevented Benson from getting off a shot, but partially blocked it.
As a junior who both DraftExpress and NBADraft.net describe as something of a "late bloomer", gaining strength to operate in the paint might just be one stage in a longer process. However, that might also mean that it's premature to rank him as a top 25 NBA prospect, especially when he's being compared to marginal players like Steven Hunter, Courtney Sims, and Hilton Armstrong.
For similar reasons, Charles Garcia's value as an NBA prospect could certainly be questioned. What distinguishes the two is Garcia's superior offensive skill set.
SeattleU, Garcia out of sync against Oakland
Garcia struggled with the physicality of smaller defenders in both last night's loss and Tuesday night's victory against UC Irvine in which Garcia had 29 points and 13 rebounds.
The difference is that the bigger and more athletic Oakland University team played more aggressive defense that took SeattleU out of their game as a team (the Redhawks only shot 33.8% for the game).
"Defensively, because they guarded us, we got a little rattled," said Dollar. "When we're used to free flowing and coming down and getting shots and all of a sudden now you've set that on ball (screen) and that guy is there on you and you've gotta make the extra pass to make the extra pass we didn't work hard enough to try to beat what they were doing. That's a credit to them -- I thought they did a good job."
Oakland was able to use their aggressive defense to take SeattleU out of their rhythm early. With the team out of sync, Garcia struggled to find a rhythm of his own, shooting 0-4 in 12 first half minutes and getting his lone two points from the free throw line. When Dollar took Garcia out with 4:28 left in the first half and SeattleU down 9, he stopped him on the sideline and told him to stop thinking so much and just play basketball, which was difficult given the tough Oakland defense.
"(He) missed some shots, probably forced a couple things that weren't there," said Dollar explaining Garcia's difficult game. "Again, the biggest thing to explain it was Oakland. I mean, they did a good job. I didn't look at the stats but you could feel it. They guarded us -- there ain't nothin' else to that. They come out and they play good team 'D' and you don't play good team 'O' then you're going to lose."
However, another problem is one similar to Benson -- Garcia often struggles to establish and maintain position on the block and even take contact with the ball in his hands.
Against UCI, while Garcia scored using an array of spectacularly difficult fadeaway, turnaround, and generally off balance jumpers, part of that was because players like 6'9" 220 lb center Zach Atkinson and 6'5" 235 forward Eric Wise frequently prevented him from getting himself in position for higher percentage shots. Against Oakland last night, those shots -- and simpler ones -- simply weren't falling and he often wasn't even able to get the type of separation that he got on Tuesday.
Although his only field goal came against Benson on a strong move on the block that resulted in a three point play opportunity with 5:15 left and the Redhawks up 3, he picked up his fourth foul struggling to establish position against 6'1" 184 lb freshman guard Ledrick Eackles. It's not only a problem in the post but also on drives to the basket where defenders, double, or triple teams often bumped him as he tries to get going toward the basket to create high percentage shots with his superior athleticism. While he handled the pressure well against UCI, Oakland was just a stronger and more athletic team that made it difficult for him to find a rhythm.
"Trying to assimilate to college basketball"
Another major difference between the NBA potential of the two juniors showcased in last night's game is that Benson has is in his third year of playing Division I ball on the reigning champion of a Division I conference, whereas Garcia is in his first year of Division I play on a team transitioning from Division II and without a conference. As much as Garcia might need to add strength to withstand the contact he faces both in the post and on the perimeter, he might also need a period of time to simply adjust to playing a higher level of competition in a new role.
"He's doing a good job overall of trying to kinda assimilate to college basketball -- being out on the perimeter and moving around like he's been doing," said Dollar. "He's only been doing this for 12 games. So this is a -- everything, for all our guys -- is an adjustment. So I think that he's been handling it well, but there are stages to maturity . There's stages to handling adversity...Also too, playing different personnel is an adjustment -- when you've been playing for years and years, you get to where you've seen a lot of different styles of players and he hadn't seen that especially on the perimeter."
Nevertheless, if that is the cause and a team like Oakland can hold Garcia to 1-6 shooting, it might be reasonable to question whether making the jump to the NBA at the end of this season is the wisest decision for Garcia -- staying in college an extra year could give him time to adjust to top-notch competition, build strength, and refine his ability to make plays for himself and others.
The mistakes he makes are small mental lapses rather than fatal flaws, but can make the difference in a closely contested game. With just under 18 minutes left in the second half, Garcia grabbed a defensive rebound and characteristically turned and brought the ball up court and didn't pass it to either of two wide-open teammates waving their hands up court, prompting Dollar to clap his hands in frustration and say, "C'mon Chuck!".
Defensively, Garcia is still adjusting as well -- on one play, Dollar chastised him for not even attempting to rotate over, jump and block a shot attempt by an Oakland guard, instead watching him make an open layup. Otherwise, he has not had the experience of guarding the types of perimeter players he might be matched up with in the NBA because he's often matched up with the other team's center and when he's not, he's playing zone.
However, given his skill set and style of play relative to Benson's, it's hard not to agree with the DraftExpress assessment of these two players -- despite flaws that are likely a natural part of working his way through the stages to maturity, Garcia offers NBA teams a much more versatile skill set with plenty of talent to contribute on both ends of the floor.
Nevertheless, although a friend recently told me if he's on the radar, he's going to go pro, I would argue that both Benson and Garcia stand to gain more from staying in college for their senior year to develop their games. Or maybe, as a Seattle resident, I just want another year to watch Garcia play up close.
Charles Garcia's DraftExpress.com profile
Keith Benson's NBADraft.net profile