As Goes Mason Plumlee So Goes Duke

There are more than a few in the Duke Basketball fan base and the national media who are not sold on Mason Plumlee, but it is hard to see how the Blue Devils’ success isn’t intertwined with that of Plumlee.

At the start of the season, the doubters didn’t back down suggesting that the senior post player for Duke wouldn’t be the factor that many Blue Devil fans were hoping he might be. However, there has always been a hope that Plumlee would develop into a dominant post player.

In his four year career he has shown glimpses, but has never been a consistent player that Duke has been able to count on. He struggled to average in double figures through his first two years and just cracked the double figure mark last season. He has never been a particularly good defensive bigman and offensively he has been limited despite his superb athletic ability.

Plumlee can run the floor like a gazelle but in the half court his herky-jerky movements and less than graceful foot work has made him an easy target for criticism and drew the attention of many who continue to suggest Mike Krzyzewski and his staff have shown a general inability to develop big men.

That all appeared to change early this season when Plumlee started off the year like a juggernaut. He was dominating the post and had shown a few more adept moves in the post. He was averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds and Duke was No. 1 in the country after having beat three Top 5 teams early.

Then everything changed when Ryan Kelly was lost to injury. Opposing defenses who have been unable to play off Kelly now could afford to leave Josh Hairston or Amile Jefferson open away from the basket. That allowed them to double and in some cases triple team Plumlee down in the post.

Plumlee has since struggled to adjust and as a result Duke has struggled to play consistently and have dropped three games. In two of the three loses, Plumlee put up respectable numbers (15 points 11 rebounds) but against Maryland last weekend Plumlee was, for lack of a better term, awful.

He was clearly out played, and out toughed by Maryland’s Alex Len who dominated Plumlee on both ends of the floor. Plumlee finished with only 4 points and 3 rebounds, looking more like a shell of the player who started the year so strong. The frustrating part for Duke has to be the fact that if Plumlee had come even moderately lose to his season averages, 17 points and 10 rebounds, the Blue Devils likely would have won.

But he didn’t and it was obvious to anyone watching that he wasn’t the same player. Even Mike Krzyzewski seemed upset with his star player as he benched him for a good portion of the second half. After picking up his fourth foul, Plumlee looked poised to sit the rest of the game until Josh Hairston, who played well, fouled out.

It didn’t take Plumlee long after that to foul out himself and he concluded his worst game of the season.

Moving forward there will be a lot of talk about Ryan Kelly possibly coming back, but realistically, if Plumlee doesn’t round back into form the Blue Devils post season hopes are pretty much shot.

I’m not sure what Krzyzewski and his coaching staff have to do or say, perhaps there is nothing they can do or say at this point, but if they can’t get Plumlee back to the same early season level then don’t expect too many more games from the Blue Devils after the regular season comes to a close.

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2 Replies to “As Goes Mason Plumlee So Goes Duke”

  1. Bermuda Bob says:

    You have done an honest and forthright job of explaining the conundrum that is “PlumTree” #2 and I don’t think there is much I’d add, except to point out this awkward statistic:
    When #2 overtook the Duke Dunking record, I did some quick math … 
    Considering that we all presume that a dunk is (as our British friends say) a “dead cert,” if you subtract all of his dunks from all of his shots that scored, he would be only a 41% shooter, which would rank him as one the lowest of the starters …
    That’s not a leader, it’s just another “big,” like so many other teams have on their roster … 
    Looking further into his performance this year, we’ve all seen that when Ryan went down, so did #2’s performances, so I take that as conclusive proof that he is incapable of leadership … Leadership is one of the aspects a NPOY is supposed to possess !!!
    Luck is not suppose to fit into the award !!!  Luck like “PlumTree” #2 realized when Duke sprinted to an early undefeated season, but a closer look at those games shows that #2 rarely played against the opponent’s “bigs” due to injury.  Further into the season, his NPOY ballot has gotten further and further to falling off the ballot-box cliff.
    I have often described myself as an “honest homer,” which means I, like many bleed Duke blue, but I am also one who dares to make observations other fans think are equal to Duke-Blasphmey …
    –  I called out the decision to allow Kyrie Irving to come back after Duke convincingly won the ACC Tournament with a wonderful new chemistry they had established … Recently, we’ve heard a whole lot of the Duke faithful commenting on Ryan’s return, recalling the Kyrie Irving mistake.
    –  Last year I called out “Da Black Hole” well before he arrived on campus with his “sub zero” proclamations and challenges to LaBron James.  We saw what he did to last year’s squad !!!  I’ve been gratified to see people actually acknowledge that this year.
    –  Recently, during a stint where “PlumTree” #2 was stinking up the court, not playing defense, committing awkward fouls, and being responsible for more than one TurnOver, my wife turned to me and asked:  “What did Coach K ever see in that kid ???”   I could only respond by saying “Well, he puts his pants on one leg at a time like all the rest of us …”  
    I, like many who I fear will not admit it, was totally embarrassed to see Coach K jump into this clueless kid’s arms in an attempt to inspire him to use the gifts God gave him.  “PlumTree” #1 was a dud, and #2, while posting much better numbers is one as well.  He is not leading this team anywhere that they would not get by themselves.  He has not excelled against any opponent on the national scene and has been embarrassed against kids 2-3 years his junior.  What could we expect of #2 against Withey of Kansas, Zeller of Indiana, or Olynyk of Gonzaga in the “Big Dance ???  
    I worry, as all of the Duke faithful should …

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