As usual, the end of the calendar year means that Duke’s schedule slows down so that the players can take fulfilling the ‘student’ part of their ‘student-athlete’ status. Rather than pass the time with NBA games featuring millionaires playing lazy defense, why not pretend to study something just like your favorite college athletes (who are also only pretending to study)?
So here are five subjects Duke fans should study during the end of semester break (by the way, you can probably get actual college credit for these if you play football at UNC).
Watching Mason Plumlee dominate the paint while shooters like Seth Curry, Rasheed Sulaimon and Ryan Kelly bury threes feels somewhat familiar doesn’t it? Well the best way to understand the present is to learn your history. And a scholarly look back at Duke’s 2010 Championship team shows some startling similarities to the current crop of Blue Devils.
Ryan Kelly is a big man who likes to drift away from the paint to take outside shots, not unlike Kyle Singler. Seth Curry is a senior dead eye shooter more or less playing the Jon Scheyer role. Meanwhile, Mason Plumlee is dominating the paint the way Brian Zoubek did during Duke’s Championship run.
True, the comparisons aren’t perfect. Kyle Singler stood in the small forward spot while Ryan Kelly is playing power forward. Jon Scheyer was probably a better shooter and all around scorer than Seth Curry. And while Brian Zoubek wasn’t as good a player as Mason Plumlee, Zoubek was better at swiping offensive rebounds.
Of course history doesn’t so much as repeat itself as it provides interesting insight into understanding the present.
The 2010 team held an average per-game rebounding edge over opponents of 6.2 while through nine games this Duke team has a per-game rebounding edge is -1 (via DBR). Can Duke win without a Lance Thomas style role player to rebound alongside Mason Plumlee?
The 2010 team had Nolan Smith scoring from the point guard position. Does the combination of Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon equal the contributions of Nolan Smith?
The two teams are similar, but there are some key differences that might shine a light on just how far this Duke team can go. So the question remains: what, if anything, can Duke learn from its history.
In Duke lore there is nothing more religiously iconic than a retired jersey. Mason Plumlee is making a case for Player of the Year, so it’s worth wondering if the middle brother might find his number dangling from the Cameron Indoor rafters along with the other Sainted players.
The best measuring stick for Plumlee’s worthiness of highest praise is to compare him to another sacred center/forward, Sheldon Williams.
Sheldon Williams never won a Player of the Year, though his teammate J.J. Redick did, but Williams did earn Defensive Player of the Year twice. “The Landlord” also has better career stats than Mason Plumlee.
Sheldon Williams’ career stats at Duke are 13.9 points-per-game and 9.1 rebounds-per-game. During his junior and senior years, Williams averaged a double-double for the season (via GoDuke).
Until this year, Mason Plumlee’s junior season was his best statistical year as he averaged 11.1 points. Sheldon Williams only averaged lower than Plumlee’s 11.1 as a freshman. As a sophomore “The Landlord” averaged 12.6 points and improved on that total as a junior and senior.
That being said, Sheldon Williams never won a National Championship whereas Mason Plumlee was a part of the 2010 Title team. True, Plumlee was a freshman on that squad and only played 14.1 minutes-per-game, but he still got a ring (via GoDuke).
The point is, if Mason Plumlee lands Player of the Year honors or delivers an NCAA Championship, the second in his four years at Duke, then hanging his jersey in Cameron next to Sheldon Williams’ for everyone to idolize might be something to consider.
This holiday season you’re bound to run into a UNC fan who will insist that the ole Roy’s boys have much better depth than Duke. This UNC fan will probably point to Coach Williams’ propensity to use an 11 man rotation and the fact that Duke has almost no bench points.
This is when lessons learned from a chemistry class come in handy.
Bench points is the most worthless stat in basketball and the refuge of desperate fans looking to clutch to any straw that might save them from drowning. Points are points. Whether they come from a starter or a bench player, they all go up on the scoreboard the same.
Duke doesn’t ask anyone off the bench to score because they don’t need offense off the bench. All of Duke’s starters are averaging double-digit points. On the whole, Duke’s starting five averages a total of 71.6 points-per-game (via ESPN).
So Duke is getting plenty of offense. What the Blue Devils need is defense and rebounding from its bench players.
Tyler Thornton has picked up 18 steals so far while Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston are filling in admirably when they spell either Mason Plumlee or Ryan Kelly.
The bottom line is that everyone on the Blue Devils has a clearly defined role. That may not improve the draft value of the players as individuals, but it does ensure that Duke goes into games with a strong mixture of players contributing in a bunch of different ways.
Teams centered around a single star (like Austin Rivers) tend to fizzle out in terms of team chemistry. This Duke team, however, has bonded at a subatomic level and that makes them a tough team for opponents to break down.
Seth Curry has been battling a leg injury since before the season started. So far Curry has been able to play well, averaging 16.1 points-per-game. However, there have been times when he has looked to be limited in terms of mobility and when he rolled his ankle against Ohio State that certainly didn’t help matters.
Duke can beat cupcakes like Delaware without Curry, but depth isn’t this Duke squad’s strongest point. If Curry can’t play, then Duke will most certainly struggle against conference foes and in tournament settings.
In fact, over the course of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament, where Duke played three games in three days, Seth Curry’s stats go progressively worse. He scored 25 points against Minnesota, 15 against VCU and 14 against Louisville (via ESPN).
Maybe that was due to increasingly stronger opponents, or maybe it was evidence that Curry can’t handle that much wear and tear in a short time frame. Either way, the rigors of conference play will certainly test Curry’s health.
If Seth Curry can’t go, Tyler Thornton takes his spot in the lineup. While Thornton offers a better defensive option than Curry, the amount of offense lost in Curry’s absence might be too much for Duke to overcome.
Therefore, it’s imperative that Curry make it through the season in good enough shape to be able to contribute to ACC and NCAA tournament runs.
Armchair diagnostics will also come in handy when Marshall Plumlee returns from his injury. MP3 will probably get worked into the lineup slowly so as to not upset the team chemistry, but his height adds a much needed backup center to Duke’s bench options.
What is Cryptozoologoy? It’s the study of animals that may or may not exist. That includes things like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness monster and Alex Murphy.
When he arrived at Duke two years ago, Alex Murphy was purported to be a new incarnation of Kyle Singler. The fact that Murphy redshirted last year only helped to heighten the mystery around whether or not this rumored Kyle Singler 2.0 was real or just a myth.
Through nine games Alex Murphy has appeared just seven times and played a total of 40 minutes. The Chupacabra shows up with more regularity than that. And like the Chupacabra, Alex Murphy has done quite a bit of sucking when he’s on the court.
Until the Delaware game, Murphy was 0-3 from the floor and looked lost in the offense. Currently, the only Blue Devil with a worse field goal percentage than Murphy is Tyler Thornton (via ESPN).
That being said, in the game against Delaware Murphy came off the bench to play 21 minutes and scored 10 points. For the first time all season he showed signs of the rumored Singler sub-species. With a few more cupcake opponents, Alex Muphy will have more chances to prove whether or not he’s the real deal or just a mirage produced by swamp gas, shadows on the water or an elaborate hoax.