Duke Basketball: Most Important Players for Blue Devils in NCAA Tournament

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2013

DURHAM, NC - FEBRUARY 07:  Mason Plumlee #5 of the Duke Blue Devils celebrates after a play during their game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Cameron Indoor Stadium on February 7, 2013 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Duke enters the NCAA tournament as a national-championship contender. If the Blue Devils play up to their potential for six straight games starting later in the week, there's a strong chance they will hold a massive celebration in the Georgia Dome.

The journey actually starts Sunday night with the selection show, which can be viewed on March Madness Live. Not only will Duke find out if its a No. 1 seed in the bracket (printable version here), but it will find out its likely path to a championship.

Given their strong season and the program's track record, a lot of people will probably pick the Blue Devils to go all the way in their bracket pools. Let's analyze the three most important players for Duke to make those predictions come true.


1. Mason Plumlee

It's impossible to overstate the importance of Plumlee. He's the engine that makes the Blue Devils go. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding and is tied for the lead in blocks. He shoots 59 percent from the floor and plays the most minutes.

He averages over 17 points per game, but in losses, it's less than 13 points per game. No matter what angle you examine the Blue Devils from, it always starts and ends with Plumlee. His ability to control the game on the interior is crucial.

If there's one weakness that could haunt Duke, it's his free-throw shooting. He hits just 67 percent from the line. It's an improvement from earlier in his career, but teams can still take advantage of it to slow down the pace of the nation's sixth-ranked offense.


2. Seth Curry

Every championship hopeful needs a go-to scorer; somebody that can get hot and carry the offense on their back for an extended stretch if the offense isn't operating at a high efficiency as a whole. Curry fills that role for Duke.

He averages 17 points per contest while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc. Six times this season he's knocked down at least five three-point shots in a game. Those are the types of performances that can help a team survive and advance a round.

The only knock against Curry is that he doesn't provide much in other areas. He's pretty much a one-dimensional player at this point in his career, but since that dimension is scoring and he can fill it up at a rapid rate, he will play a vital role for the Blue Devils.


3. Quinn Cook

The third spot comes down to Cook or Ryan Kelly, who recently returned to provide a boost heading into the tourney. Cook won out because of his role in the offense as the main ball handler, a critical role, especially later in the tournament.

After being nothing more than a supporting cast member last season, Cook took on a much larger role in his second season. He's handled it well, providing the across-the-board production Mike Krzyzewski needed from him.

Duke spreads the ball around well and likes to push the pace, meaning the need for a prototypical point guard is reduced. But there will be times throughout the tournament when it is going to need to run key half-court sets, and that's when Cook must come up big.