Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: It's 2010: Longer is better, they say

Beware of the long people.

This is the time of year they come after you. They're in Tallahassee, Chapel Hill, Durham and a bunch of places in between, just waiting to unleash their "go-go gadget" arms.

College basketball coaches rave on and on about these longsters when they're getting ready to face a team that features them. "Those guys are long," they'll say. "Very long."

And we reporters scribble this down, nodding our heads. "Long dudes," we think. "Gonna be a tough one for the home team."

And then we put it in the paper. And then you read it, shaking your head. "Another bunch of Long-Os," you think. "Gotta watch out for them."

Nowhere in this process does any one of us stop to ponder a very important question:

Just when, exactly, did we start calling human beings "long"?

I'm not that old, but nowhere in my athletic history did I have a teammate who was described as long. Nor did I think we needed one. My coaches -- the crazy kooks -- seemed to prefer guys who ran fast, passed well, threw hard, played tough, showed leadership, etc.

More and more, though, length seems to be the single most coveted attribute for a basketball player. Speed is good. Quickness is great. Height is a bonus. But length? A basketball player's got to have length above all else.

This typically leads to discussions of "wing span," which has always struck me as somewhat demeaning to the scoutee. "Well, he can't shoot a lick, and he runs like he's wearing flippers, but check out that wing span! Sign him up!"

But there's something to it. Florida State's players have wing spans out the wazzou. That's part of the reason they're off to a strong start and entered the weekend second in the ACC in steals, behind Clemson. Long guys make passing lanes disappear. Tall guys? Well, there's a reason they stand in the back in the team photo.

As Virginia Tech opens conference play today, it's fair to wonder if they're long enough to hack it in this league. Tech coach Seth Greenberg is a frequent length evaluator when discussing opposing teams, but scouting reports of his players in the Hokies media guide lack a lot of mentions.

Guard/forward Terrell Bell is described as "long, quick and active."

Point guard Erick Green is "reminiscent of Zabian Dowdell with his length and his ability to get in the lane."

And that's it for Tech length.

Yikes. Could be a long day today at No. 9 UNC.

n n n columnist Pat Forde wrote a column Friday arguing that Boise State deserves to open the 2010 season ranked No. 1 in the college football polls. He makes a strong case, pointing out that the Broncos return 21 of 22 starters from a 14-0 team that finished the season at No. 4.

This is all the more reason to thank Tech athletic director Jim Weaver for getting them on the schedule.

The Hokies should be 3-0 entering the Oct. 2 matchup at FedEx Field, provided they can take care of Central Michigan, James Madison and East Carolina at home. With the ACC likely to get piled on again by critics, this matchup -- win or lose -- will enhance Tech's national relevance.

With eight ACC games being the primary focus, you don't need to kill yourself out of conference. But you do need to have at least one respectable matchup. Weaver has done that and more -- ECU is no pushover, and the Hokies have faced the eventual national champion (LSU and Alabama) in two of the past three years.

Don't laugh, but Boise could legitimately be another. In addition to the Tech game, the Broncos can enhance their BCS resume with a home win against Oregon State.

n n n

Despite Tennessee's loss to Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the Southeastern Conference finished a solid 6-4 in bowl games, the second-best winning percentage among the BCS leagues.

The Big East was tops with a 4-2 mark, but they lose some points for bombing in two of their biggest games: Cincinnati vs. Florida and West Virginia vs. Florida State. The ACC checked in at 3-4, clinging to the "mediocre" label with all its might. The Big Ten (4-3) and Big 12 (4-4) also had their ups and downs, while the Pac-10 flopped at 2-5.

The best record among all conferences? The Mountain West, which got wins from Air Force, BYU, Utah and Wyoming. The league's only loss was TCU, which fell to unbeaten Boise.

Don't tell that conference that there are too many bowl games. They aren't listening.

But you might get an audience in the Mid-American Conference, which finished a dismal 1-4.

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