Duke Basketball: Key Players for Blue Devils in ACC Play

Stephen SheehanCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2013

Mason Plumlee has taken his game to new heights as a senior.
Mason Plumlee has taken his game to new heights as a senior.Lance King/Getty Images

The undefeated Duke Blue Devils begin conference play Saturday against Wake Forest, and as the competition heats up in the ACC, Mason Plumlee will continue to be the key player for the nation's top team. 

Instead of making the jump to the NBA, the 6'10", 235-pound forward elected to return to the Blue Devils for his senior season, and that decision has paid off for both team and player. 

After averaging just over 11 points and nine rebounds per game in 2011, Plumlee has turned into a bona fide star through the first 13 games of the 2012-13 season. Duke's best player has done it all, scoring nearly 19 points per game while grabbing 11.2 rebounds per contest. 

Throw in 1.7 blocks per game and a stellar 63.4 shooting percentage and you have as complete a player as there is in the nation. 

Starting with the matchup against the Demon Deacons, Plumlee is the clear No. 1 option for the Blue Devils. His combination of size, length, intelligence and hustle has earned Plumlee the No. 1 spot on DraftExpress.com's senior rankings

With Wake Forest's undersized frontcourt, Duke needs to take advantage of Plumlee's unique combination of athleticism for a big man and let its leading scorer dictate the action. 

Luckily for the future first-round pick, Duke boasts a bunch of other offensive options to ease the scoring burden, namely sharp-shooting sophomore Quinn Cook. 

The 6'1" point guard is an elite three-point shooter, knocking down 48.7 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. 

Quinn's ability to knock down perimeter shots will make things difficult for the Demon Deacons and other ACC foes, who also have to deal with Duke's big men down low. 

Besides Quinn's three-point shooting, the speedy guard brings another element to the table that should key a successful conference run: defense. 

Wake Forest is an inefficient offensive team that both struggles to hold onto the ball and score it. The Demon Deacons rank 119th in scoring at 70.4 points per game but have also turned the ball over 15 times per game. 

Unfortunately for them, Quinn is an adept defender and averages 1.8 steals per contest. 

Throw in his 5.6 assists per game, and it's clear Duke's starting point guard will continue to be a key do-it-all player in the upcoming weeks. 

Like Mason Plumlee, power forward/center Ryan Kelly has also taken his game to a new level as a senior. 

Never lacking in talent, the two-time team captain has polished his offensive game and has emerged as a force for Mike Krzyzewski. 

The 6'11", 230-pounder is more than capable of knocking down outside shots but can also do the dirty work down low. After shooting just over 40 percent from downtown last season, Kelly has increased that mark to 46.2 percent. Not too bad for your team's leading shot-blocker. 

Wake Forest lacks the size and overall skill to compete with the duo of Plumlee/Kelly, so Duke should continue to ride its senior stars throughout conference play. 

The combination of Plumlee/Kelly and the sharp-shooting backcourt of Seth Curry and Cook should have the Blue Devils on the path to another deep March Madness run.