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Everybody knows the issue with Duke this year. Lack of true size and interior defense are holding this team back from reaching its full potential. This Duke team ranks 4th in the country in offensive efficiency and just 110th in defensive efficiency. The squad ranks 225th nationwide in rebounds per game but are 2nd overall in points per possession at 1.21. This Duke team needs a healthier balance between offense and defense if they plan to make a successful run through the rest of their ACC schedule and NCAA tournament.
Plenty of Duke fans around the nation have called for 7-foot redshirt sophomore center Marshall Plumlee to receive more playing time. He is the only player over 6-9 on this Duke roster and having a true center in the middle of the defense is a significant issue on this year’s team. Currently, he is averaging only 6.8 minutes per contest, but the youngest of the three Plumlees has played double figure minutes in 4 of the last 7 games. Duke went 4-0 in those games where Plumlee played double figure minutes, and only 1-2 in those 3 games where he did not. The four wins came at home against Eastern Michigan, Virginia and NC State, as well as a “road” game that was played against Elon at Greensboro Coliseum.
The Indiana native has posted a plus/minus rating of at least 7 in 3 of those 4 games. In his first double-digit minute game against Eastern Michigan he played 11 minutes and recorded a plus/minus rating of 7. Plumlee then played a career high 17 minutes in the next game against Elon and posted a plus/minus of 11 – the highest of any player off the bench that day. The sophomore center played a combined 6 minutes the next three games, including road losses at Notre Dame and Clemson. Plumlee logged 12 minutes in the next game against Virginia and had a plus/minus rating of 10, the second highest on the team behind Josh Hairston at plus 11. Most recently, Marshall played 13 minutes in the rout of rival NC State on Saturday. Although sporadic, Plumlee has seen increased minutes over the last 7 games, despite his diminished time against Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, and Clemson.
Of course the most important question: Has Marshall Plumlee been effective when he’s seen extended time? His plus/minus numbers seem to indicate he has, and Duke’s team numbers seem to indicate the same. Duke has outscored opponents on average 83-58 in these 4 games and is only allowing opponents to shoot 40% from the floor and 46% on 2pt FGs. Duke has also outrebounded its opponents on average 39-34 during these four games. Yes, I understand that in these 4 games Duke faced two weak non-conference opponents and two ACC foes at home. Still, Plumlee has provided energy and defense off the bench when he has been given the chance.
Plumlee certainly seems to be impacting games from a statistical standpoint, but his presence on the court also allows for some lineup flexibility. With Plumlee anchoring the 5 spot, Amile Jefferson can play his natural power forward position while freshman sensation Jabari Parker can play along the wing. Plumlee’s presence in the post will take some pressure off of Parker and it will allow the freshman to play his natural forward spot more often and protect him from having to guard the opponent’s big men throughout a game. Offensively, Plumlee doesn’t need to score. He just needs to continue setting screens within the flow of the offense and hit the offensive boards. More than half of his rebounds on the year have been offensive. On the defensive end, Plumlee must be able to protect the paint and alter/block shots on drives. Duke has continued to apply copious amounts of ball pressure on the perimeter and having a developing 7-footer in the paint will be beneficial moving forward.
I’m not calling for Marshall Plumlee to start every game from here on out and play 25 minutes a game. However, with the stretch of games ahead, at a minimum, Duke needs him to sustain at his current level of play, especially against some of the bigger ACC teams like Florida State and rival North Carolina. Plumlee must continue to come in off the bench and provide 10-15 minutes of energy, toughness, defense, and rebounding. His effectiveness in games going forward will ultimately determine whether Duke is a legitimate Final Four caliber team or one that suffers an early out in the NCAA tournament.