Blue Devils appear more explosive but 'unathletic' label still lingers
NEW YORK -- The most undeniable evidence of the athleticism gap between UConn and Duke came seven minutes and 11 seconds into Friday's NIT Season Tip-Off final at Madison Square Garden. Huskies point guard
No Duke player is capable of such a slam; by Robinson's assessment, "They're not very athletic." The best highlight authored by the Blue Devils guard who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player,
Highlights do not decide everything, though, and the 13th-ranked Huskies were beaten 68-59 by the seventh-ranked Blue Devils in the first meeting of the two teams since the 2004 national semifinals. Robinson called Duke "smarter," and Scheyer, who had 19 points and five assists in the final, upping his assist-to-turnover ratio to 31-to-3 on the season, was the smartest player on the floor. UConn coach
Afterwards the debate was about what else -- athleticism. It was an issue that Robinson was not responsible for raising. The first question in Duke coach
"We're pretty athletic," said Coach K. "We're just not as athletic as Connecticut. Singler is a really good athlete. Lance, Miles [are athletic]. Jon is not leaping tall buildings with a single bound but he's a real good athlete. I wouldn't call us this athletic team, but we're not amazingly unathletic."
Krzyzewski seemed to find the right tone. The game hadn't exactly been vindication of the Blue Devils' highlight-reel potential, but this team certainly has more explosiveness on the front line than the last few Duke clubs. "Whoever says our big guys aren't athletic is crazy," Scheyer said, pointing to Miles Plumlee, who had an excellent late block of Walker, and Miles' brother,
This is going to continue to be a hot-button topic for Duke, in part because "unathletic" is too often used as a euphemism for "white" -- and the Blue Devils happen to be the only top-25 team in the country with three white starters. The truth about this Duke team is that they're moderately athletic, dangerous in the open floor, and aware that they'll need to defend like crazy and crash the offensive glass in order to beat elite opponents. At this juncture of the season those qualities were enough to gut open a UConn team that's still working through many early flaws -- including lack of a three-point gunner to erase late deficits, lack of aggressiveness on the boards, and Walker's inability to create scoring opportunities in down-tempo situations.
The Blue Devils came away from Madison Square Garden looking like by far the best team in the ACC, especially after their archrival, North Carolina flopped against Syracuse in New York the previous week. But for Duke, erasing the "unathletic" label may be more difficult than winning the ACC. The memory of last year's 23-point Sweet 16 rout at the hands of Villanova -- and its ultra-quick crew of lockdown defenders -- is still fresh in the minds of hoopheads, most of whom haven't forgotten the Blue Devils' first-weekend NCAA tournament losses to West Virginia (in '08) and VCU (in '07), either. So as dominating as Friday's performance was, the question still lingers: Will the Blue Devils be able to dismantle a team like UConn as well in March as they just did in November?