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Last season, Duke fans almost universally disliked Austin Rivers. He didn’t play defense, didn’t pass and forced bad shot after bad shot. He used Duke as a staging point for his NBA career and that sort of transient relationship with the university and team certainly didn’t endear him with the fans.
Still, his buzzer-beater against North Carolina engrained him in Duke lore. For all the hard feelings and begrudging cheers, that one shot will stand as his Duke legacy. Over time, people won’t remember that he was an offensive black hole, but they’ll be showing the highlight of his game-winning shot as long as the Duke/UNC rivalry carries on.
Neither Mason Plumlee nor James McAdoo is as disliked as Austin Rivers was by his own fans. Nevertheless, both Plumlee and McAdoo have drawn a healthy amount of ire from their teams’ supporters.
Plumlee has long held the promise of a dominant inside force. That potential made fumbles and Frankenstein footwork forgivable as an underclassman. At the start of his senior year, all that potential looked to have been realized. Mason Plumlee played himself into strong Naismith consideration by chalking up one double-double after the other.
Then Ryan Kelly got hurt. More of the scoring burden fell on Plumlee’s shoulders and defenses, no longer forced to stretch to the floor to cover Kelly’s shooting, could sag down to defend Plumlee in the post.
Those two things proved to be incompatible. With the exceptions of a few games, Plumlee proved that he couldn’t carry the offense. Now the former National Player of the Year candidate may not even garner ACC Player of the Year honors.
North Carolina’s James McAdoo has caused Tar Heel fans similar levels of frustration. The sophomore forward has doubled his minutes and points from last year, but that falls short of the mammoth expectations foisted upon him by preseason prognosticators.
McAdoo was meant to be a dynamic forward who could obscure the fact that the Tar Heels didn’t have a reliable option at center. Instead, McAdoo has been a victim of an unreliable shooting stroke. The forward shoots 44.9 percent from the floor, but on some nights it seems like that average is the result of fuzzy math.
Last night against Maryland, McAdoo was just 3-of-11 from the floor. Last week against Clemson, he was 5-of-13. Even on nights when he puts up good point totals, McAdoo is a high-volume shooter. That works out alright in Roy Williams’ fast-paced offense, but when opponents slow the Tar Heels down, his inefficiencies tend to manifest themselves to an extreme.
It’s not that McAdoo is a bad player. It's just that he was supposed to the best player for a top-10 team. His failure to live up to that hype encapsulated the Tar Heel’s early season struggles. And when North Carolina finally righted the ship by switching to a smaller lineup in the first meeting with Duke, it was Reggie Bullock, not McAdoo, who emerged as the key cog in the Carolina machine.
Yet in spite of all the frustration McAdoo and Plumlee have caused their respective fanbases, the Duke/UNC games offers an opportunity to obscure those memories of underachievement. A career night for either of those players en route to a victory would snuff out any cynicism directed at their college careers.
In the first meeting, Plumlee played well, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Yet he looked confused by North Carolina’s smaller lineup to start the game and lost the narrative to Tyler Thornton’s triplet of critical three-pointers.
McAdoo, meanwhile, sputtered to nine points on 4-of-12 shooting (box score via ESPN).
So what’s at stake for both is the fact that a career-defining moment on this biggest of stages would rewrite a lukewarm player history and cement the victor into their teams’ storied history.