Sunday, January 11, 2009
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Slimmer Allen apparently needs more donuts to put end to donuts

BLACKSBURG -- They should take him to Sizzler right now and order something with lots of butter. Bring on the bacon, the burgers, the bratwurst. Hold the broccoli. And cover it all with ranch dressing.

Jeff Allen needs his belly back.

Frankly, Allen looks great these days. Too great. The Virginia Tech post player is noticeably slimmer than he was last season, with obvious muscle tone and a well-defined jawline.

But there's a problem. Somehow, the 6-foot-7 sophomore has lost his edge on the offensive end of the floor.

His shots are getting blocked. His moves are just indecisive enough to cost him. He went 0-for-7 from the floor Saturday, the third straight game he's struggled from the field.

The Hokies still beat Virginia 78-75, mainly because of outstanding performances from perimeter players A.D. Vassallo and Malcolm Delaney. It was an excellent game and a much-needed victory for the Hokies, one worth celebrating.

At the ice cream parlor.

Fetch some extra chocolate sauce for big No. Zero.

"Hey, I'll say the same thing," Vassallo said. "I love him at 270 like he was last year. He rebounded. He knocked people down. He'd dunk on people. He was unstoppable.

"Now, I don't know. He's in great shape. I really don't get it."

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A.D. is right. Some things just defy common sense. When word came down this offseason that Allen had been working out like a fiend and eating right, it seemed like great news for Tech. He lost 18 pounds -- all of it seemingly the right kind of weight to drop -- and entered the season as a key member of Tech's "Big 3."

But right now it's the Big 2. And a Big 2 is not enough to win consistently in the ACC, is it?

"I'll be honest with you: I really don't think so," Vassallo said. "I'm hoping Jeff wakes up. I'm not trying to call him out or anything, but we need him. Period. I need the big guy inside, because he's going to make my life easier.

"If I can throw it inside and they double him, I know me or Malcolm or somebody is going to get open and we can make a play. We definitely need him to get going, and hopefully he makes it soon. Because once the league starts, it's going to be tough."

I'm like Vassallo here: I don't want to pick on the guy. I just want to encourage him to hit the nearest Chinese buffet ASAP. Some guys just play better with a little extra bulk. Charles Barkley and ... uh ... OK, so that's about it. But maybe Allen has a little "Sir Charles" in him. He certainly made a strong impression last season, when he posted 10 double-doubles, led the team in rebounding and made the freshman All-ACC team.

His numbers aren't bad this year. They're all up slightly, actually, a natural bump you would expect after the loss of Deron Washington. But Allen is clearly not as imposing and doesn't seem as confident, and often those things are more important than numbers.

Heart doctors and physical trainers, butt out of this. This is no time for preachy discussions about "health risks" and "life expectancy." This is college basketball -- much more important than any of that mumbo-jumbo. Besides, even the "food pyramid" we all learned in school had to be tweaked in 2005. Why should we trust the professionals?

We can trust our eyes. And our eyes tell us that effort is not the problem. Allen is battling like a madman out there. He's chasing the offensive rebounds, lunging for steals, trying to go up strong. On Saturday, Allen leveled Wahoo guards on two separate occasions on backcourt screens, legally knocking both players to the floor.

So he's contributing. But he's still missing something.

His spare-tire mojo.

"He's trying," Vassallo said. "We're getting him the ball inside and he's getting it in a good spot; they're just not going for him right now. And we need to get him going if we want to make it to the NCAA tournament and be the great team that we want to be."

They used to call Allen "The Big Donut" because of the number on his jersey and his prolific size. Now he's just ol' No. 0, just another guy trying to find his way out of a slump.

"Jeff Allen is going to be fine," Tech coach Seth Greenberg said. "I have no doubts in my mind."

He's probably right. But just to be sure, somebody ought to get the guy a chicken fried steak.

Don't skimp on the gravy.

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