It wasn't too long ago that most Duke basketball fans had virtually given up any hope of having a talented center to rely on for both scoring and rebounding.
When Steve Wojciechowski, a former standout guard under Coach Mike Krzyzewski, took on the role of developing the Blue Devils' big men, most determined that the move would eliminate the center position altogether and bring about a complete guard-oriented offense.
Over the past few seasons, those that expected great guard play got what they were hoping for—offenses centered around the likes of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and even Kyrie Irving. With the talent that each of those guards possess, it's no wonder that Coach K built the team around these dynamic playmakers.
Coming into this season, most felt that the offense would once again be centered around a star guard, Seth Curry, with freshman Rasheed Sulaimon garnering attention as well. After carefully watching and analyzing the first eight games of the season, however, there's no doubt that the offense and defense are both controlled and dictated by the play of center Mason Plumlee.
Plumlee, a senior who bypassed the 2012 NBA Draft to finish out his final year of eligibility in college, has had a very up-and-down career for Duke, to say the least. Following his final year of high school, many scouts and fans believed that he could be the next great center for the Blue Devils.
After three subpar seasons in Durham, however, those same scouts and fans had to feel as if he had not quite reached his full potential at the college level.
Heading into his last season for Duke, the high expectations for Plumlee had vanished and his stock as an NBA player seemed to take a major hit. There was no doubt in the minds of NBA scouts that he was an extremely talented player, but he hadn't taken the necessary steps over the past three years to raise his level of play.
What they originally expected from Plumlee was for him to become a dominate interior player on offense, a consistent presence on defense and to improve his overall efficiency at the charity stripe. They had seen flashes of brilliance in each of these key areas throughout his college career, but never over a long span of time.
Well, following eight outstanding starts where he's averaged 19.6 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, Plumlee seems to have put the past behind him and is excelling in every facet of his game.
He has become a dominate force on offense, making 65.4 percent of his shots, and has vastly improved his free-throw shooting, from 52.8 percent as a junior to 76.1 percent this season. He's also taken significant strides on the defensive end, averaging 1.9 blocks per game and influencing nearly every shot that is taken near the basket.
In short: Mason Plumlee is finally living up to the billing.
Over their first eight games of the year, Duke has defeated the likes of then-No. 2 Louisville, No. 3 Kentucky, and No. 4 Ohio State. They've also become one of the most potent inside-out attack teams in the country, thanks in large part to the improvements that Plumlee has made to his game.
The Blue Devils' guards have played well this season, and much credit should be given to Curry, Sulaimon, and even Quinn Cook. However, the emergence of Mason Plumlee, and the way in which he has dominated so far in this young season, has truly made Duke a legitimate threat to win the National Championship.