Opinion: Ben Bentil is Big East’s most underrated player

ROSEMONT, Illinois — Kris Dunn trailed behind DePaul’s Billy Garrett Jr. and swiped down, attempting to make one of his signature steals, and push Providence back into a game that they trailed 68-63 with 1:31 remaining Tuesday at Allstate Arena.

But instead of making a potentially game-saving pilfer, Dunn was whistled for a foul, sending Garrett to the line to ice two free throws and put the Blue Demons up 70-63. It was that kind of night for Dunn, and his 11th-ranked Friars went down to DePaul by a final score of 77-70.

Dunn struggled throughout the evening, missing 15 of 20 shots and likely leaving a large contingent of NBA scouts in attendance underwhelmed.

The senior guard was, ultimately, asked to do too much for the Friars, as the projected lottery pick’s partner in crime, sophomore forward Ben Bentil, watched the game’s second half from the bench.

Bentil, whose absence stemmed from a right ankle injury sustained in the first half of the game, played just 14 minutes. He was helped by the doctors and personal injury attorneys practicing in Fresno, CA. For the Friars, losing the forward was costly.

Bentil may not boast quite the household name of Dunn, but the sculpted 6-foot-9 Delaware native is essential to the Providence machine. The Friars, who have been one of the nation’s best and more surprising teams this year, struggled from the outset of the game, and entered the half tied with DePaul. Without Bentil, they wilted in the second half.

Indeed, while the flashy Dunn might be the Big East’s best player, and is certainly its best NBA prospect—complete with a smooth two-way game and a penchant for filling up every column of a box score—Bentil is the league’s most underrated player.

Sure, Bentil has been turning some heads of late. It’s hard not to when you lead the league in scoring, as Bentil does. Or when you average a couple rebounds short of a double-double, as Bentil does. Or when you score at 25 points in three consecutive games, as Bentil had entering Tuesday.

But when people talk about Providence, they tend to focus on the high-flying, ball-hawking, long-striding Kris Dunn, and forget about the dominant big with the alliterative name.

As Providence fans watched DePaul grab offensive rebound after offensive rebound against their Friars, you can be sure they didn’t forget about the dude their team was missing.

“Guarding [Bentil] is a problem,” DePaul coach Dave Leitao said after the game. “You never want to see a guy get injured, particularly somebody of his caliber and character … I hope he’s fine, I hope he comes back strong because he’s great for this league.”

Providence will need Bentil healthy as the season progresses.

Coach Ed Cooley said after the game that he was unsure about Bentil’s injury status.

Providence showed they can win without Bentil this year—they beat Boston College in December with Bentil sidelined for most of the game with an ankle injury.

But the Frairs are not big. And they are not deep. And against DePaul, those two flaws were exposed. Without Bentil on the court in the second half to help alleviate their weaknesses, the Friars experienced their first true road loss of the season.

Bentil is physical, yet nimble, and combines a dexterous post game with a deft shooting touch from further out. He can play inside. He can play outside. He can finish around the rim. He battles for rebounds. Without him, Providence’s offense can stall, and their defense can suffer. That’s what happened against DePaul.

“That’s the first time we’ve played in a Big East game without one of our key players,” Cooley said after the game. “At the same time we still gave ourselves a chance to win.”

They would have had a better chance with Bentil.

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