Strong frontcourt play a necessity for deep run

Bryant Drayton
Contributing Writer

Redshirt sophomore Mo Alie-Cox drawing double coverage from Davidson defenders. Photo by Brooke Marsh

Having recently moved their way back in the AP top-25, there is no doubt the Rams are in conversation as a tournament-bound team. No. 20 VCU has compiled a 12-3 record and currently shares honors atop the Atlantic-10 conference. But are they able to compete with the perennial programs in the country? The only detriment to VCU compared to the top teams in the country is their lack of size in the frontcourt.

The absence of big bodies down low can be damaging when playing teams with a dominant big man. VCU’s “havoc” style of play tends to limit the Rams when it comes to being able to keep a big body in the paint. In a fast-paced offense, the larger players are more vulnerable, due to their lack of agility on the perimeter.

The anchor for the Rams down low resides in 6-foot-6 forward Mo Alie-Cox. The Alexandria, Virginia native is a force to be reckoned with in all facets on the defensive side of the game. Another rising stud is freshman forward Justin Tillman, who stands 6-foot-7.

Both Tillman and Alie-Cox give VCU two physically active big men who play with heart and passion on both ends of the court. Effort is key for the Rams frontcourt, since their lack of size puts them at a disadvantage when playing a team with more size and length.   

University of Virginia and Villanova University both handed VCU early losses this season in part because of their size. Both schools rank among the top-10 teams in the country.

U.Va. was able to outrebound VCU 35-21 in the 17-point loss, in which U.Va. was able to go on a 15-2 run and shoot 68 percent from the floor in the game.  The Wahoos’ frontcourt ranged from 7-foot center Mike Tobey to 6-foot-9 forward Anthony Gill, who torched VCU for 18 points on 7-9 shooting.

Villanova outrebounded VCU 39-32, but took control in the second half of the game by dishing the ball down low to their frontcourt, and then were able to find shooters on the perimeter. Villanova compiled 20 assists as a team, a statistic head coach Shaka Smart was not fond of.

“It’s unacceptable,” Smart said. “It’s a painful reminder that we need to get better on defense.”

In basketball, the team with the most height always has the advantage. There is no other team in the country that can match the height of No. 1 Kentucky.

Kentucky’s frontcourt ranges from 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein, to 6-foot-11 Karl Towns. In comparison to the NBA, only the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder can match the height of the Kentucky Wildcats. The clear-cut favorites to win the National Championship, the Wildcats have both height and length at their disposal.

For VCU to be able to garnish another Final Four run, a physical presence down low must be found by the end of the season. Alie-Cox is paired with senior forward Jarred Guest who continues to evolve as a force under the rim. The presence of Guest will be the key for the Rams, as he adds another element into the equation.  Guest ranges 6-foot-8, but has the athleticism and foot quickness to guard taller players.

Guest, Tillman and Alie-Cox lead a defense struggling to make a name for itself.  With the bandit himself in senior point guard Briante Weber, VCU thrives on averaging the fourth most steals per game with 11. The rest of the defense has not seen as much success, as VCU ranks 185th in points, allowing 66.2 per game and 272nd in rebounds per game with 22.6.

Luckily for the Rams, VCU will not be outsized in the Atlantic 10 conference, but when tournament play comes around the absence of a 7-foot stud in the middle could plague VCU’s ability to win games.

To the Rams avail, Havoc still presents a daunting task for teams to play against, as the country has yet to find an answer to derail head coach Shaka Smart’s master scheme.

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