Over the past two years Duke has reaped the benefits (one national title, one Sweet 16 appearance) of perimeter predictability. Guard Nolan Smith and forward Kyle Singler—who combined for 244 starts over the last four seasons—were as close to constant as it gets in the ACC. "You knew what you were going to get from those two guys, night in and night out," associate head coach Chris Collins says. "You knew that they'd combine for 40 points and double-figure rebounds." But now that Smith, Singler, No. 1 draft pick Kyrie Irving and their combined 55 points per game are gone, uncertainty has returned. As Collins says, "We have a lot of untested commodities that need to develop."
Besides freshman guard Austin Rivers—a consensus top-three recruit who is expected to start right away—the most valuable of those commodities already has spent two seasons at Duke. But to date, 6'10", 235-pound Mason Plumlee (7.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg) has been more notable for his genes than his stat line. The power forward's decision as a high school junior to commit to the Blue Devils helped prompt his older brother, Miles (4.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg), now a 6'10" senior, to switch from Stanford to Duke and set the stage for an all-Plumlee frontcourt. (Youngest brother Marshall is a 6'11" freshman forward.) But while Miles has the best-developed low-post game and highest vertical leap on the team (36 inches), Mason, who idolizes skilled power forwards like Kevin Garnett and Amar'e Stoudemire, is widely regarded as the most talented. A projected first-round pick last spring, he was the subject of a five-page thread on a popular Blue Devils message board entitled The Mason Plumlee NBA Draft Vigil.
Mason decided to stay in Durham, in part to learn how to assert himself down low. "When you're that skilled, you have a tendency to want to do everything," Collins says of Mason's habit of roaming out to the perimeter. Coach Mike Krzyzewski will most likely start a trio of guards (Rivers and juniors Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins) who are all excellent long-range shooters and capable of attacking the rim—meaning Mason will be the primary option in the paint. "I need to tell myself every day to not take plays off and be more aggressive," Mason says. "More blocked shots, more buckets inside." If he can do that, another NCAA run is predictable.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Mike Krzyzewski (32nd season)
2010--11 RECORD 32--5 ACC 13--3 (2nd)
NCAA TOURNAMENT Sweet 16
*High school stats
42.1 FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE for Mason Plumlee, a 59.3% shooter for the season, in Duke's five losses last year. He also picked up 18 fouls in those games.
The Plumlee brothers provide unparalleled interior size and muscle, clearing the way for Duke's slick-shooting guards and a Final Four trip.
Inexperience reigns: Seth Curry flounders at the point, and Austin Rivers can't carry the team by himself, while Duke's big bodies struggle against elite teams inside.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
MASON PLUMLEE The top NBA prospect in a family full of them, the junior should be a double double machine for Duke this season.