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.