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Duke Basketball: Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly Are Gone, What’s Next For the Frontcourt?

Duke is losing two of its most important players to graduation in a few weeks in Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. With so much attention usually paid to guards in college basketball and with the Blue Devils in particular, replacing the experience and production of those two will be paramount for Mike Krzyzewski and his staff.

There are two ways Duke can handle next season’s frontcourt and it will ultimately come down to a philosophical decision that pits physicality against the current trend of playing small.

In Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee the Blue Devils have a decent-sized stable of bigs to pick from to fill those the power forward and center positions in the more traditional mold. On the other hand, incoming freshman Jabari Parker and rising sophomore Alex Murphy are excellent candidates to play the stretch “4” role that has been the trend in recent years (Kelly, Kyle Singler).

But which lineup serves the Blue Devils better in the long run? Here are a few ways they could go.

Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon, Rodney Hood, Jabari Parker, Marshall Plumlee

This seems like the most logical way to position the frontcourt as close to this season and previous season’s lineups. Parker at the power forward position would see him doing many of things he’s been doing for years at Simeon while also making room for Hood to play out on the wing where he does his best work.

Plumlee’s development this summer is going to have a big impact on how successful this lineup can be, especially since he’s the only player on the roster with the size to compete with other centers in the college ranks. If he isn’t ready, Hairston is likely the option but leaves the Blue Devils in the lurch a bit with nobody in the starting lineup over 6-foot-8.

Cook, Hood, Parker, Hairston, Plumlee

Here is the traditional look. Cook and Hood in the backcourt, Hairston and Plumlee in the frontcorut with Parker floating and doing all the things that made him such an attractive prospect.

This leaves Sulaimon as the sixth man and Tyler Thornton, Amile Jefferson and Murphy coming off the bench and providing experienced depth. Matt Jones and Semi Ojeleye could rise above Murphy but the first three are almost non-negotiable as we found out this season.

Personally, I like this lineup a lot better with Jefferson in there ahead of Hairston but it’s become clear that Krzyzewski perfers Hairston at this juncture. That could all change with a good offseason, but for now Hairston gets the nod.

Cook, Sulaimon, Parker, Jefferson, Plumlee

This might actually be the best option in my mind, especially from a defense perspective. Sulaimon and Jefferson both proved this season that they can have an impact on the defensive end of the floor when they’re focused on doing that. Parker gets the nod over Hood because, well, he’s Jabari Parker.

This will likely be one of the lineups Krzyzewski features during stretches of games where they need to get defensive stops and protect a lead with Thornton possibly being swapped in if he really wants to clamp down. I think this could be a great lineup, and I hope we see it.

Cook, Thornton, Hood, Parker, Plumlee

And here we have the hammer. This is the lineup I see starting Game 1 next season.

Cook is the obvious choice at point guard, Thornton has been a coach favorite since he stepped on campus so he gets the nod over Sulaimon (at least to begin), Hood gets the nod for doing his time and working hard, Parker takes his spot as something of a stretch four, and Plumlee rounds out the lineup strictly for being big.

I’m personally banking on a big offseason for Plumlee, Jefferson and Murphy and for them to make strides towards filling roles that range from impact starter (Plumlee) to valuable bench player (Murphy). Krzyzewski and Steve Wojciechowski know how important their big guys are going to be to reaching the same heights they achieved this season and will have those guys in the gym and in the weight room preparing for what lies ahead.

If Plumlee knows whats good for him, he’s already at the K Center working with Mason and Wojo getting better.