Makeshift interior provides challenge for men’s basketball

Media Credit: Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Junior forward Arnaldo Toro drives to the basket during a men's basketball exhibition against Catholic last month.

Men’s basketball may have the third-shortest players on average in the conference, but the roster pieces together a frontcourt it has lacked in recent years.

The team measures up to an average of 6 feet 4 inches with 6-foot-8-inch junior forward Arnaldo Toro, 6-foot-9-inch sophomore forward Javier Langarica and 6-foot-9-inch freshman forward Marcus Littles helping boost the tally and making up the team’s interior. The three stand alone on a backcourt-heavy team that has lacked a true big man for three years.

Nine of the team’s rostered players are listed as guards, leaving only five Colonials who could potentially see minutes down low. While the team has historically lacked post players, the lopsided position split is slightly lessened for the 2018-19 season from last year, when GW carried one additional guard on their squad.

Head coach Maurice Joseph will understandably play to the strengths of his guard-heavy team and emphasize scoring in transition rather than a post-heavy offense. But it remains to be seen how the team’s frontcourt will function in the fast-play strategy and how many forwards he will typically keep on the floor at one time.

When stacking up against larger opponents down the stretch, the squad will find itself at a disadvantage.

Even with the addition of Littles as a true big man, the Colonials still fall on the shorter end of teams in the Atlantic 10, who average 6 feet 4.76 inches. GW and Saint Louis are the only two teams in the A-10 without a player over 6 feet 10 inches tall, but the average height on the Billikens’ roster is nearly 1 inch taller than GW’s.

Sophomore guard Justin Mazzulla said the frontcourt players will be most crucial for the team when they face off against taller teams who run a more slowed-down offense.

“They’re always going to be useful, no matter what, even if we have guard play,” Mazzulla said. “We’re always going to need that one big person down low to fight and get rebounds.”

Toro – who led the team last season in offensive rebounds with 88 and overall rebounds with 229 – will be a fixture on the floor for GW. With two years of experience under his belt, he will play “heavy minutes” in the frontcourt this year, Joseph said.

But Toro will be fulfilling more of a stretch-four role – occupying the perimeter on offense – as opposed to a traditional power forward or center that would remain on the block.

“Finding the balance playing inside and outside is going to be the key, being able to know when to score inside and being able to score outside and taking advantage of opportunities,” Toro said.

Toro’s ability to play on the block and along the perimeter makes him a prime candidate for Joseph’s uptempo game strategy, but leaves the Colonials potentially vulnerable to losing offensive rebounds when the junior is pulled away from the basket.

With Toro crashing the boards from the perimeter and likely to be surrounded by four shorter Colonials at any given time, opposing teams with more height are likely to outplay GW under the glass.

This problem was foreshadowed in an Oct. 28 exhibition against Catholic, when the Colonials were out-rebounded 48-46 despite facing off against a smaller Cardinal lineup.

Toro posted 13 boards through his 22 minutes in the matchup, but he was the only GW player to break double digits on the boards. Behind him, Langarica and redshirt junior guard DJ Williams both grabbed seven rebounds.

After the exhibition, Joseph called his team’s rebounding performance “unacceptable,” but said he believes when Littles joins the lineup it will remedy the missing presence down low. Littles missed the game due to an ankle injury suffered in practice, but is expected to be ready to play in GW’s season opener against Stony Brook Tuesday, according to an athletic department spokesman.

Out of the three primary post players, Littles is the most traditional example of a big man, and will play a significant role in increasing the Colonials’ success off the glass when he is cleared for play.

With Toro at the frontcourt’s core, Langarica and Littles will see the bulk of GW’s minutes at the four and five positions. Williams – who led the Colonials in scoring against Catholic – can also transition to a forward role if necessary, he said.

“Depending on the situation of the game, if we’re playing against a team with bigger size, we may need a bigger frontcourt,” Williams said. “We don’t want to get our guards in foul trouble or give up mismatches.”

Despite the uncertainty of how the forwards will fit this year, Toro said the team is ready for the challenge.

“We’re not the biggest team but I think our grit is in there,” Toro said. “If we care and we show grit, we should be good.”

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