Tacko Fall Adds a Weird Twist to College Basketball
Tall people have played basketball forever. Height is an obvious advantage to start closer to the rim, for rebounds, shooting over people, defending the goal and more. Most major-conference Division-I teams have one or two players between 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-11, occasionally finding a 7-footer who can move well enough to play at that level.
There’s tall, and then there’s Tacko Fall tall.
The senior center from UCF is 7-foot-6, and if you haven’t watched the Knights yet, they’re a must-see if even just for the novelty of Fall. The Senegal-native makes the 6-foot-10 normal giants look like me standing next to him. With his size and wingspan, he doesn’t have to leave his feet to dunk.
It’s not something I’ve ever seen in college basketball, and it’s something we will see again for a long time. It’s a completely unique situation for opponents to deal with, and it forces every game Fall plays to deviate significantly from a normal contest.
Fall is not an amazingly talented basketball player. Most of his production is generated purely by being 7-foot-6 and having a great level of athleticism and control of his body for someone his size. He averages a little more than 11 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game. He is his team’s third scoring option, with guards B.J. Taylor and Aubrey Dawkins carrying more of the offensive burden.
But his presence is felt in so many ways. Of course, it is felt directly with the advantages his height brings. Multiple times per game, he will get offensive rebounds around the rim that become automatic baskets. For someone his size, he has great footwork and can execute post moves, spinning around defenders and even putting the ball on the floor. He’s very efficient, shooting better than 75 percent from the field on the season and with a ridiculous effective field goal percentage of 75.4, which adjusts for the value of a three versus a two.
I don’t need to break down why it’s so difficult for anyone to guard somebody who’s 7-foot-6, but that’s only one way he affects the game. Offensively, teams always have to be aware of Fall whenever he’s on the court. Allowing an entry to him near the basket is essentially giving up two points itself. That means the paint has to be loaded, and someone, typically your biggest player, has to stick to him like glue to muscle him away from the rim. This not only can force a defense to pull its best shot blocker away from the hoop, it can only open up the perimeter for Taylor and Dawkins to work. UCF is able to open space purely by putting Fall on the floor, and if the ball gets to him in the post, plenty of room will be created when the defense doubles, collapses or both.
Defensively, Fall still draws attention. If you want any hope of scoring at the rim, you need to keep away the guy who doesn’t have to jump to be as tall as the rim. This can be accomplished in a number of ways: putting him in high ball screen situations, trying to seal him off from the driving lane or stroking from deep, eliminating Fall’s ability to affect shots. But where he is on the floor is something all offenses have to be aware of when playing UCF to a degree that’s unique, even when compared to going against elite shot blockers who stand at more normal heights.
There are ways to slow down Fall. Unsurprisingly, his large frame makes his susceptible to foul trouble, especially because of how easy it can be for officials to give players going against him the benefit of the doubt. He also shoots an abhorrent but understandable 36.2 percent from the free-throw line as it’s very difficult for him to shoot with the size of his hands relative to the ball. He can’t affect the game from the bench, and he’s much less efficient if you put him on the line.
There is only so much that can be done, though. Fall will always get a handful of rebounds, dunks and blocks sheerly through his size, and there is nothing that can be done about it. His existence on the floor creates such unique circumstances that cannot be replicated on the same scale by anyone else. There are few players in all of college basketball more interesting than Fall, and basketball lovers nationwide would be remiss to not enjoy the near comedic twist he puts on UCF’s games.