Duke Basketball: Blue Devils' Big Men Hold Key to Success

Mike KlineAnalyst IFebruary 3, 2010

At the beginning of the year, Duke fans were excited about the size of this year's Blue Devils.

Mike Krzyzewski was billing this team as his biggest squad in his 30 plus seasons in Durham. There was even some reason to hope that this collection of bigs might help turn the recent tide of late season failures.

And at the beginning of the year, there was plenty of evidence to support just that theory.

Duke boasted a front line of Miles and Mason Plumlee, both 6' 10" and uber talented. They also had Brian Zoubek at 7' 1",  who brought a lot of experience if not talent. 

While Mason Plumlee obviously had the most potential, he was sidelined early with a fractured wrist.

Meanwhile, Mason's elder brother Miles came into the season a projected starter and early returns showed Miles had come a long way.

He was averaging nearly 8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds over the first 12 games and Duke was 11-1. Since then the elder Plumlee has averaged less than 7 points and 5.6 rebounds in the last nine games and Duke is only 6-3.

While a one point drop in per game average in points and rebounds might not seem like enough to cause Duke's recent string of inconsistent play, it may be more than a mere coincidence.

In the first 12 games, Miles Plumlee scored in double figures five times and had three double figure rebounding efforts. In the last nine games despite a season high 19 points against Wake Forest, Plumlee has scored in double figures only twice and had only one double figure rebounding performance.

It is clear that when Plumlee is contributing on the offensive end of the floor, Duke is winning. Duke is undefeated when Plumlee's scoring and or rebounding totals are in double figures.

His ability had taken some pressure off of the Blue Devil's big three of Kyle Singer, Jon Scheyer, and Nolan Smith. They will continue to bare the heavy lifting for Duke, but they also can use all the help they can get.

In Duke's four losses, Plumlee is averaging only five points and four rebounds.

But Plumlee's play had been ably supplemented by Brian Zoubek's. While Zoubek's numbers (5.2 points and 6.3 rebounds) have been helpful, it is when he scored and got the rebounds that had been the most beneficial.

Despite his opportunistic play, Zoubek though, as he has been his entire career, is foul prone and is often sitting soon after he enters the game.

That is where Mason Plumlee's return was to be a big turning point for the Blue Devils. So far though, the younger Plumlee hasn't been lighting things up.

He is averaging 4.9 points and 3.4 rebounds in the 15 games he has played. However he is only averaging 14.2 minutes per game (the second lowest total of the scholarship players).

And while Mason Plumlee's slow start can be attributed to his missing time earlier this year, the brief glimpses of his potential are what is frustrating Duke fans the most.

To date his most impressive games have come against Wake Forest (11 points, 7 rebounds) and Penn (18 points, 7 rebounds).

He hasn't been consistent, which again can be attributed to his missed practice and game time earlier in the season. But he must step things up for the Blue Devils to maximize their potential.

Mason has shown an ability to impress with his athleticism, but hasn't been able to finish when contested. If he can become more consistent Duke should have a high ceiling for success.

For the Blue Devils to get out of this recent slump, both Plumlees and Zoubek are going to have to step up their games.

And while Zoubek has little room for growth other than avoiding silly fouls, the brothers Plumlee have shown the ability to contribute and now have to bring it every game.

If they do, then Duke has the potential to go far, if not then, it could be another early exit.




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