Troubling news came out of Niagara in the middle of this week: senior Bilal Benn could miss about one month following a supposed knee surgery.
The school would not disclose precise information, but the director of athletics communication said it was a "minor procedure" that would be "short term." The Niagara Gazette reported the details "according to a source."
Assuming Benn, who is averaging 15.6 points, 11 rebounds, 3.4 assists, and 1.9 steals per game, is indeed sidelined for a month, the Purple Eagles will struggle.
The scoring aspect of Benn's game is not irreplaceable because Demetrius Williamson, a scoring senior, will replace Benn in the lineup. However, with the Villanova transfer out, Niagara, whose main concern entering the season was its lack of a big man, loses its only consistent rebounding force.
Consequently, the Purple Eagles lost by a meager six points to Buffalo in their first game without Benn. But, they probably would have won if they had a reliable rebounder available—they were out-rebounded 45-29 by the Bulls.
Had Benn played, the rebounding margin would have decreased and Niagara could have won the game.
It is difficult to predict the impact of Benn's loss on his team because of the nebulous timetable for his return. He'll definitely miss the rest of the OOC schedule, but after Niagara fell to Auburn, Austin Peay, and Akron, at-large hopes vanished for the Purple Eagles. Regardless, they need wins against Illinois State, St. Bonaventure, and Air Force to bolster their postseason resume.
If about a month means a few days less than a month, Benn might not miss any conference games. However, if it means a month or slightly longer, he'll miss two crucial contests against Fairfield and Siena, two teams who flaunt dominant rebounders.
At this point in the season, conference games are most important to Niagara's fate. Therefore, the Purple Eagles really need Benn to return by January.
Photo from Niagara Gazette