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Jan. 13, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – One of the best compliments a basketball player can receive is that he is playing with a high level of consistency.
That hasn’t always been the case for Virginia Tech’s Jeff Allen, but it sure has been lately. The Hokies take a six-game winning streak into tonight’s game at North Carolina, a stretch in which the senior post player from Washington, D.C., has averaged 15.8 points and 11.7 rebounds.
The reason is pretty simple – he’s been able to stay on the floor.
Allen played in three elite programs – DeMatha, Oak Hill and Hargrave. He has always been a solid college player with career averages of 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. But he has been plagued by fouls that have limited his minutes.
As a junior, Allen averaged 26.3 minutes per game. This season he’s up to 30.4 minutes per game, and those four extra minutes are making a big difference. He fouled out of four of the Hokies’ first eight games this season, but only one of the last six.
“I think he’s been consistent, he’s been able to play more minutes, he’s been able to stay on the floor, which obviously is important for us,” said coach Seth Greenberg. “He’s rebounding the ball, not only balls in his area but out of his area. On the defensive end he’s just been terrific.”
Allen has always had a knack for stealing the ball – he says he’s quicker than he looks at 6-7, 230 pounds – but at times he hasn’t used the best judgment in when to attempt steals, which has led to fouls well away from the basket. This year, he has made an adjustment.
“I try not to reach to go for the steal,” he said “It’s just timing – (knowing) when it’s a time to gamble, when it’s a time to play it straight. This season is more playing it straight because I feel I have to stay on the floor to help my team win.”
Allen’s presence in a game is crucial. The Hokies have lost four scholarship players for the season to injuries or health issues and another player transferred, so their ranks are depleted. Allen understands he has to be one of the leaders to help his team stay in games and have a chance to win.
“I think his approach has really been outstanding,” Greenberg said. “He comes in every day, even though he’s hurt. As a senior he’s approaching it as you would hope a senior would approach it.”
Greenberg said Allen has done well in dealing with the pain and discomfort of a groin injury.
“We’ve limited his practices … because we just can’t afford anyone else to go down,” Greenberg said. “We’ll limit the amount of times he has to go up and down (the court), we’ll limit the amount of times he has to push off of that leg, but he’ll be ready to play.”
Allen said the injury, which makes most people wince just to think about, is something he just has to play through.
“You can be out there chilling and the next minute it’s starting to ache a little bit,” he said. “But it’s getting better.”
In an effort to keep his players out of foul trouble, Greenberg has made a significant defensive adjustment. The coach said he “summoned my inner Jimmy Boeheim” – referring to the Syracuse coach long known for playing zone – by using zone the entire game in last weekend’s 71-59 win over Florida State.
The Hokies won’t necessarily play 40 minutes of zone every game because Greenberg wants them to continue to run and score easy baskets in transition. And against some teams, it’s not a good matchup. Still, more use of the zone benefits a team thin on depth and in particular helps Allen.
“In the zone he’s not in position to guard as many ball screens, he’s not in position to over-help or get stretched out on the court where he get those maybe foolish reaching fouls,” Greenberg said. “He doesn’t put himself in a lot of bad situations in terms of rotations (and) we’re not giving up as much dribble penetration so he’s not put in position where he’s got to help.”
Greenberg said the players have bought into the zone concept and are playing with a lot of confidence.
“The zone keeps me out of foul trouble,” Allen said. “It’s working. It’s a pretty good defense. I like it. Whatever it takes to win.”
Allen burned Florida State with 24 points and 11 rebounds and impressed Seminoles coach Leonard Hamilton.
“He wasn’t in foul trouble and a couple of times we’ve played them he’s been in foul trouble,” Hamilton said, “and late in the game he played a lot freer, with a lot more confidence because he wasn’t strapped with fouls that kept him from being aggressive.”
Tonight’s game will contribute to the sorting-out process that has just begun in the ACC. Duke’s loss to Florida State Wednesday night put a different light on the standings, which have Boston College on top at 3-0. Virginia Tech can join Duke, Florida State and Clemson at 2-1 by winning tonight. The Tar Heels will move to 2-0 if they win.
The Hokies must cope with a strong North Carolina front line that includes 6-11 Tyler Zeller. But Allen said things boil down to a simple premise for Virginia Tech.
“It’s never any secret for us,” he said. “It’s going out and playing hard, just playing tough. (Zeller) is playing pretty good this year; he’s a rebounder, he’s a good player. We’ve just got to try and shut him down. We have to go in and play hard and take care of business.”
Allen’s performance against Florida State caught the eye of Tar Heel coach Roy Williams.
“Jeff Allen, I thought he was sensational,” Williams said.” It starts with those two guys (Malcom Delaney and Allen). They’re good enough to accept the responsibility that Seth puts on them. They’re leading their team and probably doing it verbally as well as by their play on the court.”
Delaney is the senior guard who, like Allen, has been a starter since his freshman season. In their fourth year together, they have developed a sixth sense for each other.
“We know each other’s games pretty well,” Allen said. “I can say that we’re on the same page. I know when he’s going to shoot it, I know when to crash (the boards), he knows when I’m going to pass it, he knows when I’m going to shoot it. We’re connected.”
Right now both are playing at the high level of consistency that the Hokies need. If Allen can continue to hold up his end by limiting his fouls and staying on the floor, Virginia Tech will be difficult to deal with for everyone in the ACC.
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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