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Devil's Advocate: Duke Is Athletic Enough

Justin McTeerCorrespondent INovember 30, 2009

NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 27:  Alex Oriakhi #34 of the Connecticut Huskies shoots the ball against Miles Plumlee #21 of the Duke Blue Devils during the Championship game at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2009 in New York, New York.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Welcome to Devil's Advocate, my weekly Duke Basketball column.  Each week, I'll take on a common argument or criticism against Duke used by analysts and/or Duke haters. My opinion might not be correct, but I'm just playing Devil's Advocate.

At halftime during Duke's 64-53 win over Arizona State in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden, ESPN analyst Doug Gottlieb described the Blue Devils as "alarmingly unathletic" at several positions.

When asked to comment on Gottlieb's analysis after Duke beat Connecticut for the NIT Season Tip-Off championship, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski took a jab at the former Oklahoma State point guard.

"[Gottlieb] should be an expert on 'alarmingly non-athletic'...an expert who actually knows what it feels like to be 'alarmingly non-athletic,'" said Krzyzewski after the game.

Apparently, Krzyzewski didn't appreciate Gottlieb's comments.

The non-athletic reputation will be something that Duke won't likely shake with Brian Zoubek seeing significant floor time and Jon Scheyer running the point, despite how well he performs (Scheyer has a 10.3/1 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging 16.8 points per game).

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But make no mistake, this is a Duke team that is more athletic than they look.

Guards Nolan Smith and Andre Dawkins are certainly athletes.

Mason Plumlee, currently injured, showed off his athleticism at the McDonald's All-American dunk contest a few months ago.

Miles Plumlee, Duke's starting big man, is 6'10" with a monstrous 36-inch standing vertical—he had to duck mid-air to keep from slamming his head on the rim on a block against Arizona State.

Before anyone gets carried away, let's be clear—no one is saying that Duke is one of the most athletic teams in the nation, or in the ACC for that matter.

But the Blue Devils, despite what anyone says, are athletic enough.

Athletic enough for what?

Well, they are athletic enough to post 45 rebounds, including 18 offensive boards, against an extremely athletic Connecticut team. The Huskies have struggled on the boards this season despite their size and athleticism, but give Duke credit—it's tough to grab nearly 20 offensive rebounds against anyone, let alone against a team with Connecticut's size.

Despite being widely regarded as one of the ACC's less athletic teams, the Blue Devils currently top the conference in rebounds with 44 per game, out-rebounding frontcourt-loaded teams like North Carolina and Florida State who have just as much size, if not more, than the Blue Devils. 

Simply put, the Blue Devils can certainly hold their own against any team in the conference, especially once 6'10" Mason Plumlee suits up.

Duke may not be the most athletic team in the ACC, but they are athletic enough.

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