Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Outlook hazy for Hokies hoops

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by coaching hires: fluid, even after they're finished.

Q: Yeah, I've been waiting to ask you about that. Seems you've downgraded the hire of Virginia Tech basketball coach James Johnson from 7 out of 10 just two weeks ago to a 4. Can't we let the guy coach a game before we lose faith in him?

A: The downgrading isn't so much a reflection of Johnson as it is the hire itself. If continuity was the guiding influence - and judging by the comments of athletic director Jim Weaver, it was - then losing two key players in Dorian Finney-Smith and incoming recruit Montrezl Harrell to transfers looks really bad.

Q: But it sounds like Finney-Smith has been unhappy for months. Wouldn't it be possible that he would have left anyway?

A: Good point. Guess we'll never know.

Q: And if Harrell doesn't want to be in Blacksburg, what exactly can Johnson do about that?

A: Nothing. But Johnson telling beat writer Mark Berman that he's "not really worried" about potentially having only eight scholarship players next season is scary.

He added that "we might try to bring a kid or two in." There should be no "might" about it. Go get some bodies. Tech fans (and UVa fans, for that matter, given this past season) have to be getting tired of their team running out of players.

Q: Let's talk some baseball. A lot of interesting stuff happening: Orioles, Nationals, Dodgers and Indians in first place. Albert Pujols struggling. Controversy aplenty in Boston. What's been the most compelling development to you through the first 35 games or so?

A: The rise of the defensive shift. While those other stories are interesting, this could have more long-term impact on the game than any of those other developments, which, it should be noted, are occurring in a small sample size.

Q: So the shortstop moves to the other side of second base against a pull hitter like David Ortiz. What's the big deal?

A: That's just it; it's not just against the Ortizes anymore. The New York Times ran a story last week that detailed the experimentation of Rays manager Joe Maddon, who's shifted his defense drastically more than 150 times already this season. Righties. Lefties. Heck, even guys like Detroit's Ryan Raburn - a righty hitting .128 through Friday - are seeing the wacky alignments.

Q: And?

A: And it's working. The Rays are hitting .245 as a team - 30 points lower than the Red Sox and 32 points lower than the Yankees - but they're ahead of both in the AL East standings. The team that they were tied with in the division entering Friday, the Orioles, are the second most frequent purveyors of the defensive shift. Hmmâ?

Q: Come on. The pitching by those two teams thus far has a little more to do with the results than shifting, doesn't it?

A: Probably. But those two things could be intertwined. The guess here is you're going to keep seeing more of this, and it's going to trickle down to colleges and high schools. Someday soon, Cave Spring will be moving its shortstop to the right of second against Lord Botetourt's No. 8 hitter.

Q: Comment of the week on the blog?

A: Strong stuff from crooked road on the Tech hoops transfers. "The impact of these losses is not just the W-L total for this season, either. Remember, DFS was a freshman. Had he stayed, Harrell come in and contributed, then you'd have a much more solid front court for the next three years. Now Johnson and staff are going into the season with a very limited group of frontcourt players.

"Where do we stand now? We've got an untested rookie head coach with a very depleted roster, and virtually no 'big' players. And we're in the ACC.

"For all those who screamed about Greenberg not making the NCAAs? You got what you wanted, he's gone now. How does it taste? In February, how will it taste?"

Q: So, how will it taste?

A: No idea. But I never was one of the screamers.

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