WEST LAFAYETTE – JaJuan Johnson will get the chance to put reality behind his coach's praise. Is Purdue's senior forward really one of the nation's best big men? What can he do against an NBA-caliber center?
Answers could come Sunday night at Mackey Arena when No. 14 Purdue (2-0) hosts Oakland (1-1) as part of the Chicago Invitational Challenge.
Oakland has 6-11, 230-pound Keith Benson, a candidate for national player-of-the-year honors. He averages 16.0 points and 10.5 rebounds. The 6-10, 221-pound Johnson counters with 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds and six blocks.
“It's an opportunity to play somebody of high caliber,” Johnson said. “You have to bring your ‘A' game. I'm excited get the opportunity to match up with somebody like that, and our team should be ready.”
Benson is considered a likely first-round pick in next spring's NBA draft. He had 22 points and 15 rebounds last week against West Virginia. He averages 16.0 points and 10.5 rebounds.
“I've seen him a little bit,” Johnson said. “He's really athletic. He has a nice touch down low. He's a good rebounder. It will be a good challenge for us.”
Benson earned Summit League player-of-the-year honors last season after leading Oakland to a 17-1 league record and 26 overall victories. In the conference tournament he averaged 13.0 points and 15.7 rebounds. Oakland lost to No. 18 Pitt in the first round of the NCAA tourney in March despite Benson's 28 points and nine rebounds.
“Any time you kind of go head-to-head with two guys who are considered pro prospects, it's a very intriguing situation,” said Purdue coach Matt Painter. “It will be a challenge for both of those guys.
“We'll see who guards who. We can play smaller or bigger. I've seen Benson play before, but it's more about Purdue trying to get a victory. We know how tough this is going to be.”
Oakland is a big jump from Howard and Alcorn State, the Boilers' first two opponents. They've won by an average margin of 41.5 points.
The Golden Grizzlies' game against the No. 14 Boilers is part of a brutal nonconference schedule that includes No. 13 Illinois, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 24 Tennessee, Michigan and No. 4 Ohio State
“We have a gauntlet in front of us,” Oakland coach Greg Kampe said, “so we have to compete.”
Purdue will play Austin Peay on Tuesday night at Mackey Arena in the second round of the Chicago Invitational Challenge before heading to Chicago and a Friday night game with Southern Illinois. The tourney ends Saturday against either Richmond or Wright State.
“We want to keep making steps with our nonconference schedule,” Painter said. “Oakland and Austin Peay will both be quality opponents before we go to Chicago.”