In line with preseason predictions, the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils have been among the favorites for the Final Four all year. While star freshman Austin Rivers has gotten the most press, however, he won’t be the biggest factor if Duke makes good on its potential and enjoys a deep NCAA tournament run.
Junior F/C Mason Plumlee has been doing the dirty work for the Blue Devils under the boards, leading the team at 9.4 rebounds a night. It’s his 1.6 blocks per game, though, that will have even more to say about Duke’s postseason fortunes.
In their three losses this season, the Blue Devils have allowed their opponents to shoot 59.3, 56.4 and 54 percent from the field. Much of that damage has been done on the perimeter, but Plumlee must shoulder some of the blame as well.
Even more importantly, Plumlee—who can actually play defense—will need to act as a safety net for the porous guards so that they can dial up the pressure against opposing three-point shooters. Otherwise, the first hot-shooting team Duke faces in March could hand them a very early exit.
Plumlee will also need to provide some stability on offense for Duke. If the outside shooters go cold (as in a 3-of-15 performance against Ohio State in November), Plumlee and his .617 field-goal percentage will be an essential backup plan.
The oldest of the three Plumlee brothers is far from the most explosive talent on this roster, but he’ll deserve a major share of credit for any postseason success Coach K enjoys this year.