by Eric Tullis
Like Coach Krzyzewski always mentions, Duke is a beatable team and we might see one of these losses occur over the next couple of weeks. More than likely, it will be Mason Plumlee's fault. He can't save Duke.
I can’t be too hard on No. 1 Duke either, because—whether or not I’m painfully undecided on whether this team is outplaying 11-1 Kansas—the Blue Devils’ starting five is still playing like a well-choreographed, pitch-perfect quintet. However, “The Temptations” would be an apt title for the Duke bunch, since the Blue Devils have appeared enormously tempted to force its offense to depend solely on Mason Plumlee’s efficiency in both scoring, and especially offensive rebounding—the inefficiency of which led to Davidson scoring 14 second-chance points in the first half of Wednesday night’s game.
Even Plumlee admitted that he had a bad game. If Duke would have suffered a loss to Davidson, all of the blame would have rested on Plumlee’s performance, even though that night should have belonged to Seth Curry—who after putting up a Duke career-high 31 points against Santa Clara returned to his hometown of Charlotte to put up a repeat performance against Davidson. It didn’t quite work out that way and Plumlee’s 10 points didn’t make the win look any prettier—you could see the rare ugliness on Quinn Cook’s face.
But how hard must it be for Mason Plumlee’s younger brother Marshall to sit on the bench game after game knowing that if he were able to offer his brother just a few more minutes of sibling relief, it could boost Mason’s game energy just enough to grab a few more offensive rebounds and maybe not turn the ball over as much. Mason never looks fatigued, but he often looks overused; and luckily, Ryan Kelly saves his ass. The Plumlee brothers’ tandem doesn’t seem to be something that Coack K is interested in exploring this year and if Marshall’s recovery from his injuries persist, he may not have a choice—unless Mason finds himself injured from constant wear and tear.
This was the danger during Duke's Nov. 13's game against Kentucky. In theory, big men Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein should have suffocated Plumlee and put him out of business. Luckily, the inexperience of the two freshman (Noel and Cauley-Stein) left the Wildcats' whole frontcourt dumbfounded against a smarter Plumlee. On any other day and against any other team with that much length, Duke's dependence on Plumlee would have been trashed.
It’s a possibility, and it’s almost certain that one of Duke’s starting five will get too roughed up during conference play to keep up the amount of minutes they’ve been stacking. Then, it’ll be up to Plumlee to bail the team out of its misery, which is scary because he’s only as much of a leader as any one of Duke’s wingmen allow him to be. That's not a dependable offense.