TUCSON, Ariz. - It is the curse of the good big man in basketball that his accomplishments are often expected to be as outsize as his stature. As long as the goal is 10 feet off the ground, the easiest way to win is to place a talented, tall guy in the vicinity and let him go to work.
People have always expected Lavoy Allen of Temple to be that guy, or to be that guy eventually. The 6-foot-9 Allen has developed into another kind of player, however, and a very good one. Just not that one.
"I wouldn't be sitting here today answering these questions if Lavoy Allen wasn't in the program," Fran Dunphy said at his news conference on Friday. "That guy has carried us unbelievably in his four years."
It is no coincidence that Temple has been in the NCAA tournament each of those four years. During that time, Allen has been an exceptional defender and a great cog in the team's sharing philosophy, but he has never been the monster underneath the basket that his physical gifts would suggest.
And so Lavoy Allen enters what might be the final game of his college career as an enigmatic figure and is facing the sort of challenge and comparison that could be Temple's undoing.
While the Owls offense is built on perimeter shooting and penetration by its guards, San Diego State, the No. 2 seed in the West Regional and Saturday's opponent, is a very strong frontcourt team. Kawhi Leonard is the best of them, a 6-foot-7 forward with hands the size of pie plates who rebounds as if it were a religion. He isn't much of a shooter, but he is one of those "high-motor" players who can overwhelm opponents.
Coming off a game in which he had just one field goal and didn't get that until the final two minutes, Allen will need to step up his own intensity against San Diego State. He said that is his intention, but if Temple loses and people point to the frontcourt battle as the difference, they will pretty much be pointing at Allen.
"When you're a good player, you have to take the criticism along with everything else," Allen said. "I don't mind it. I've been criticized a lot of times before, but I'm just trying to help the team win. There have been times I've deserved the criticism, and I just use it to motivate me."
Dunphy agrees with the old adage that a wise coach has to accept the whole player, utilizing his strengths and living with his weaknesses. He takes that bargain with Allen without hesitation.
"He's not going to be that high-energy guy, a guy like Tyler Hansbrough. He's not. He's just running up and down, and he'll get there eventually," Dunphy said. "He's always in the right spot, but he's not going to get there at 1,000 miles an hour. So everybody thinks he's not working as hard as he can. But he is, and he's committed to winning."
Allen has averaged 11.6 points and 8.5 rebounds this season. His shooting percentage is excellent, his assist-to-turnover ratio is good for a big man, and he stays out of foul trouble. That's a nice resumé for a college forward but not the ideal output for a team's most dominant frontcourt player.
"What he does for you doesn't always show up in the box score," Dunphy said. "He helps out on defense, and a guy, instead of driving all the way down the lane, has to pull up and kick it back out. Those kinds of things are always there. I think we'll see a better game offensively [against San Diego State], but the defense will be the same."
It better be. San Diego State averages 72.1 points per game and makes a living from its offensive rebounding ability. The Aztecs can defend, too, particularly in the paint area, and are ranked in the top 15 nationally for field-goal defense at 39.4 percent.
This is a difficult matchup, and it would be little surprise if the Owls lost the game. But it does figure to be close, and it would be helpful to Temple if Allen got his offensive game back in gear. Before scoring just three points against Penn State on Thursday, Allen had been in double figures seven straight games.
"I'm going to continue to assert myself and try to get it going early," Allen said. "And just hope the ball goes in."
Everyone on the floor has to hope the same thing, or the season will be over. For Allen, the only senior in the regular playing rotation, his college career will be over.
It has been a very good career, all things considered, because you do have to take the whole player. But basketball is not always a fair game, and big men are looked at differently. In their case, it is the big men who are expected to take you somewhere.
Contact columnist Bob Ford
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