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Blue Devils’ success rides with Plumlee brothers

Mason and Miles Plumlee are question marks on a team full of seemingly sure things, Scott Rich writes.
Mason and Miles Plumlee are question marks on a team full of seemingly sure things, Scott Rich writes.

There aren’t too many question marks on this Duke team.

We already know Kyle Singler will be a matchup problem for opponents all season whether he plays inside or out. We know Nolan Smith will be a dynamic shooting guard capable of taking over the game when the shot clock winds down. And we know Kyrie Irving may be the closest thing to a sure-fire freshman star that the Blue Devils have ever had.

We know that Duke’s perimeter play will be dynamic—it is, in fact, as close to a certainty as can be found in college basketball this season.

Where the questions lie is in the post.

And that is why the Plumlee brothers, and not one of Duke’s bigger stars, will determine whether the Blue Devils will win another national championship this year.

The situation is not unlike the one Duke faced with last season’s team. That team knew that most of its scoring would come from its Big 3—Smith, Singler and the now departed Jon Scheyer—all of whom played on the perimeter.

But without the consistent play of Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek in the paint, the Blue Devils wouldn’t have won the national championship. And in reality, all Duke needs from Miles and Mason Plumlee this year is to match the performance of last season’s bigs—namely, to be solid defenders and dominant rebounders.

But no one knows if they can.

True, both Miles and Mason have shown flashes that they can be not only as good, but better than Zoubek and Thomas. Lost in Zoubek’s resurgence last season was Miles’s solid, if not spectacular, play as a starter in the first half of the year. He averaged almost six rebounds per game as a starter and had double-digit scoring performances seven times in that span.

But when the schedule transitioned from cupcake non-conference opponents to tougher ACC competition, Miles’s stats quickly diminished. And once Zoubek became a regular starter, he never had a shot to make a real impact again.

In short, he’s an unknown, albeit a promising one.

And while his younger brother Mason might be more talented, he’s even more of a variable. Mason was supposed to be a dynamic performer as a freshman last season, but a preseason wrist injury derailed those expectations.

Instead, Mason was relegated to inconsistent playing time off the bench. Like Miles, he had flashes of brilliance, scoring in the double digits against both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. But he still remains a relatively unknown quantity.

And that’s why the brothers Plumlee will determine Duke’s success this season.

There’s every indication that Miles will be a solid rebounder and defender, and Mason could be the dynamic scorer in the post that Blue Devil fans have craved since Sheldon Williams left campus. If that happens, this Duke team could be dominant.

But there is another way this could go—and it’s a bigger possibility than any Cameron Crazie would like to admit. Despite all their talent, the Plumlees might falter when faced with the task of playing 30 minutes a game as opposed to 15. They might not be able to guard the more physically dominating forwards that permeate the ACC. They might fall into foul trouble like they did many times last season, leaving Ryan Kelly, who played negligible minutes last year, to carry the burden of being Duke’s primary post player.

We just don’t know.

Whether Singler averages 18 or 20 points a game this season will not determine whether the Blue Devils defend their national title. Whether Irving has a slow start before blooming into the star almost everyone expects him to be will not either.

But if the Plumlees can’t live up to their potential, that could.


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