The Times West Virginian

WVU Sports

November 12, 2010

WVU to deal with Benson in opener

MORGANTOWN — Normally, an opening game for a major college basketball team is not much of challenge. Play a mid-major a few bucks to come into your gym, take a beating, get the season going and move on.

On the surface, that is exactly how it would appear West Virginia’s Final Four Mountaineers are debuting in the Coliseum tonight in a sports lovers’ dream day. Playing in the day’s finale that includes volleyball games, two women’s NCAA soccer tournament games and the women’s basketball opener, WVU invited Oakland, Mich., from the Summit League to town.

No sweat, you say? After all, this is a team that is 5-50 against BCS conference schools and 0-12 against Big East teams.

Don’t count on it being a walkover, however.

Oakland comes off a school record 26-victories last year and won 20 of its final 21 games. It is coached by a veteran coach in Greg Kampe, who has been there for 27 years and owns a 445-323 record.

And lastly, the Golden Grizzlies have in Keith Benson one of the nation’s top players, a 6-11, 230-pound shot blocker.

Here is what Fran Fraschilla, the former coach now with ESPN, had to say about him:

“This 6-foot-11 string bean could slip through a wet straw and emerge dry. But what Benson lacks in bulk, he makes up for with great timing and an ability to get off his feet quickly. Last season’s Summit League Player of the Year dropped 28 points and nine rebounds on Pitt in the NCAA tournament. Luckily for Grizzlies coach Greg Kampe, a postseason thumb injury kept Benson from working out for NBA teams, thus a return for his senior season.”

Lucky for Kampe, unlucky for Bob Huggins, who has to figure out a way to not only defend him with no one his size but also to go against him offensively. Benson is also the school’s all-time shot blocker with 235.

It’s exactly the kind of challenge Huggins wanted in arranging this game.

“Going to Puerto Rico next week we wanted a challenge,” Huggins admitted, knowing his team heads to a big-time tournament in Puerto Rico and opens with Davidson.

While Huggins surely will move players in and out to try and muscle Benson, who is not a power player, the bulk of the defensive duties well could fall to Kevin Jones, the Mountaineers top offensive threat.

This is a dangerous tactic, in that you want to keep Jones out foul trouble because his offense is so important.

“Kevin is pretty smart. As much as any of our guys he knows how to play,” Huggins said.

And that is the key, not so much to shutting Benson down but to keeping himself out of foul trouble.

“The key is don’t do dumb things. Doing dumb things get you in foul trouble,” Huggins said.

And it’s hard to score when sitting on the bench.

“My father once asked me, ‘How many fouls do you get?’ I told him five. He said, ‘No, you get four. On the fifth one you are out of the game.”

Jones knows that there are times he will be on Benson and that it will follow that pattern during the season. He says he’s looking forward to it, but knows it will be a challenge.

“From film and what everyone is talking about he’s really good and we’re going to accept it like any other challenge with any big time player. We want to go after him and let our defense do the talking for us,” Jones said.

WVU’s defense under Huggins usually talks loud, especially at the Coliseum where they have help opponents to just 59.5 points a game.

Jones could not come up with anyone in the Big East whom Benson resembled as a player.

“No, not really,” Jones said, when asked for a comparison. “Nonetheless, he’s a very talented player and we are going to have to treat him like anyone in the Big East, pay special attention to him and crowd him when he has the ball.

“He plays a lot of back to the basket. He’s more finesse than power, but nonetheless he’s a great talent.”

The Mountaineers will go with Jones, Deniz Kilicli and John Flowers in the front court and with Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla in the backcourt.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.

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