Why Size Matters For Duke

Why a quartet of big men may mean special season for Blue Devils.

This will not be the tallest team in Duke history, but the 2011-12 Blue Devils will join elite company.

That bodes well for this year's Duke team, because size usually translates to success for the Blue Devils.

The average player on this year's team is six feet, six and a half inches. Only one team in the last decade—the 2010 National Champions—came within three quarters of an inch of that.

In fact, our research found only three teams in the Krzyzewski era that were taller. The '91-2 Blue Devils featured Christian Laettner, Cherokee Parks and Erik Meek, the ‘88-89 Duke team with Danny Ferry, Laettner, Alaa Abdelnaby, Clay Buckley, and George Burgin, and the '87-88 squad with everyone except Laettner. So the three teams taller than this year's Blue Devils all went to the Final Four, and one took home the National Championship.

Twenty of the last 22 Duke teams have had at most three players 6'10" or taller. The 2011-12 Blue Devils have that many Plumlees. Throw in 6'11" Ryan Kelly, and Duke will have a quartet of big men.

"We're going a lot more into our bigs right now," Coach Krzyzewski said while the team was practicing for their China trip. "We haven't done that in awhile."

The only other two Duke teams since 1990 to have four big men? The 2010 national champions, and the 2002-03 team that made it to the Sweet 16.

The tallest player on the 2010 team was 7'1" Brian Zoubek, and Coach K couldn't resist taking a shot at him while raving about the current batch of Blue Devil bigs.

"I'll probably get a call from Zoubek soon asking why we're finally going to our bigs," Krzyzewski said. "I'll tell him, these guys can actually do something with the ball inside, instead of just rebounding and playing defense."

Marshall Plumlee is the newest addition to the Blue Devil towers. He's listed at 6'11", but Krzyzewski said of Marshall, "He's an outstanding athlete for a seven footer."

"He has great enthusiasm, a great motor," Krzyzewski continued. "His enthusiastic play helps the team."

Marshall will join big brother Mason, who led last year's team in rebounding. The 6'10" Mason rebounded in double figures 13 times last year, including six straight conference games. He had five double-doubles and enters the season as Duke's third leading returning scorer.

"Mason's rebounding sets him apart," Krzyzewski said. "He had games with 16 and 14 rebounds. We told him, ‘You have to do that.' It's like when you have a good fastball pitcher in baseball. You tell him ‘Work on other pitches, but don't lose your fastball.' This year, he'll have to put the ball in the basket when he's in close."

The third Plumlee brother, 6'10" Miles, is the team's only senior. He's also Duke's second returning rebounder. He averaged just under five rebounds and points per game in limited minutes last year. As his playing time goes up in his final year, so should his contribution.

The fourth big man is the one Krzyzewski sounds most excited about. 6'11" Ryan Kelly has made some changes in the summer before his junior year.

"He looks different," Krzyzewski said. "He's stronger. He moves more, has a quicker shot and an intermediate game. He can put the ball on the floor, which makes him a tough matchup when he's guarded by a big guy."

"I'm becoming more athletic," Kelly said of his new look. "I put on weight before my sophomore season. Now I've molded that weight to build strength and define my body. "

He also arrived at summer practice sporting a beard, perhaps as a tribute to Zoubek.

The new look and the game that goes with it allows Kelly to play inside and out, which creates headaches for opponents.

"You put Ryan with a big, and you have four guys who can space the court well. That will open things up for Mason and Miles. If you double team, you should get hurt," Krzyzewski said.

"It makes it more difficult to give help underneath," Krzyzewski explained. "Ryan gives that to you. I'd like to use him like we used Carmelo (Anthony) on Team USA. When we put him at the four (power forward), it makes things easier on Dwight Howard inside."

When told of the comparison to Anthony, Kelly was gracious, but didn't back down from the challenge. "It's obviously a nice compliment," he said. "He's confident in me to make plays, to knockd down shots and make plays for others. I'm more confident in my shot, and in my ability to drive and create shots."

"I'm going to be a really good player this year," Kelly concluded.

And if history is any indication, it may be a very special year for the Blue Devils.

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