If we combined the three warm bodies that pass for big men on the Duke basketball roster, they would make a pretty decent center.
Let's call him "Amjoshall Plumjeffston."
Plumjeffston would have Marshall Plumlee's bulk, Amile Jefferson's athletic ability and Josh Hairston's nasty streak, preferably in a less fragile version of Plumlee's 7-foot body. So far this season, he'd be averaging 8.6 points and 7.7 rebounds in 34.4 minutes per game and shooting about 61 percent from the floor. And we analysts wouldn't be harping daily on Duke's lack of an inside presence.
However, Plumjeffston is a fictional creation. These are three separate men with three separate skill sets. Therefore, the harping will commence.
Recent Signs of Life
Even though Hairston is drawing the lion's share of the minutes, Jefferson is thriving off the bench. Against Michigan and Gardner-Webb, the sophomore put up a solid 10 points and 16 rebounds in 29 combined minutes. He collected 10 of those rebounds in only 12 minutes against G-W.
Likewise, there have been stirrings from Plumlee. He ripped down six rebounds—five offensive—in the two most recent games. After the Michigan game, he credited an improving ability to keep calm and carry on.
"It’s taken me awhile, but I think I’m finally figuring out how to calm down a little bit on the court. It’s tough at first, because it’s so exciting, you want to do so well," Plumlee told the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer's Laura Keeley. "But if I really want to do well, I’m finding out now that I just have to take a deep breath and relax a little bit."
As for Hairston, he had more points than fouls against Gardner-Webb. That's only happened three times this season, so it counts as a victory.
These guys don't need to score on a team led by Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, but the rebounding will be key. While it should be no surprise that the trio perked up against overmatched Gardner-Webb, Michigan actually has a big, talented and experienced frontcourt. Positive signs from Jefferson and Plumlee should not go unnoticed.
Success in the ACC?
When Duke begins ACC play, it will dive right into the deep end, facing Notre Dame and its burly trio of Garrick Sherman, Zach Auguste and Tom Knight. Notre Dame is the only ACC school among the nation's top 50 in percentage of shots near the rim, according to Hoop-Math.com. Sherman in particular has become a constant offensive threat, averaging 14.5 points per game.
Florida State, NC State and Maryland are also in the top 100 at the tin. However, that's not to say that they're the only opponents who'll draw a giant bull's-eye on the Plumjeffston troika.
Syracuse's dynamic duo of C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant, Georgia Tech's Robert Carter and Daniel Miller, Pitt's Talib Zanna and Florida State's Okaro White should all be salivating at the possibility of driving on the three big Blue Devils. And that's not even mentioning archrival North Carolina and its battalion of burly forwards.
The one thing that will define success for Plumjeffston in ACC play is holding down that array of talented post players. It can be done.
After all, Mitch McGary was invisible for 38 minutes, scoring only seven points before Michigan launched a flurry in garbage time. McGary's health is still a matter of concern for the Wolverines, but the Duke defense was still much sturdier against him than it was against Kansas' Perry Ellis or Joel Embiid at the Champions Classic.
The defense will be even more sternly tested by opponents with talented penetrating guards. Vermont had two separate players dish nine assists and drew 21 fouls from the Blue Devils. Drives from the likes of Clemson's Rod Hall, Syracuse's Tyler Ennis and Georgia Tech's Marcus Georges-Hunt will force the post players to help out if Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton let their men get by.
So, What Will We See?
How would you rank the Devils' post players?
A reasonable expectation—at least from the outsider's perspective that all of us occupy—should be for gradual ramping up of Plumlee's minutes, MP3's health permitting. If nothing else, he will account for some length to grab rebounds and block some shots. The Devils are in the 250s nationally in block percentage, according to Ken Pomeroy (subscription required).
Hoop-Math tells us that Duke's opponents get the largest portion of their shots at the rim (37.9 percent). The shots that aren't blocked go in at an eye-popping 71 percent clip. Greater minutes for Plumlee should result in a larger portion of rejections, along with a simple psychological boost for Duke. Opposing slashers are more likely to think twice about challenging a 7-footer.
Jefferson continues to show that he is the Blue Devils' most effective rebounder when he sees minutes. His board percentages of 15.2 offensive and 23.4 defensive, per Pomeroy, are team highs. His athletic ability is impressive, but he's simply not a skilled scorer.
Hairston is the one out of the three who doesn't look like a late-game foul-line liability, and he may be best suited to Plumlee's current role: spot minutes and contributing five fouls for the cause.
A zone defense has been bandied about for most of the season, including here on Bleacher Report. It's anathema to everything that Mike Krzyzewski has stood for for more than 40 years, but he's dabbled this season. Arizona made him pay, however, and the zone has been seen only sparingly since.
Zone defense shouldn't be seen as a cure-all, however, since the best zone teams get that way by being immersed in zone throughout every practice. Duke will never get that sort of experience with the system's nuances as long as Coach K is drawing breath.
In the end, the Devils' entire defensive scheme will need to revolve around hiding Plumjeffston as much as it can. The use of Parker as a quasi-center should only be a desperation play. The three biggest Devils have to be a part of the game plan. Figuring out how the big pieces fit is a task for Coach K, and don't bet against him finding a solution.
After all, he hasn't won all those games based on good looks and charming personality.
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.