(credit: Lance King/Getty Images)By: Mark Chalifoux
The Duke Blue Devils are a top-five team and will be a tough out come March because of one of the most overlooked attributes in college basketball: senior leadership. With so many talented players leaving early for NBA stardom, having a strong senior-led team isn't as common as it used to be. Duke doesn't have that problem, as seniors Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee have kept the Blue Devils near the top of the college basketball world.
Plumlee followed a typical path for a talented post prospect at a big school. He honed his game over the past few years and has developed into one of the top big men in the country this season. Coach K has called him 'the most important player in the conference' and it goes without saying that he's the key to Duke's success.
He leads the team in scoring (17.6 points per game) and rebounding (10.4 rebounds per game) this season and has had an astonishing 16 double-doubles. When he's played poorly (like his four point, three rebound performance on Feb. 16 against Maryland) Duke struggles. Plumlee responded to that performance well though, answering his critics with two straight double-doubles in Duke blowout wins, including a 19-point, 15-rebound performance in a Feb. 24 89-68 win over Boston College.
Plumlee has become the focus of opposing defenses but his capable passing skills and ability to hurt teams from the free throw line have kept him effective. Duke fans have maligned his offensive prowess in the half-court offense and his propensity to disappear in games (much more so earlier in his career) occasionally but Plumlee has improved considerably in both facets this season.
He'll join his brother Miles in the NBA next season, as scouts love his athleticism and his adeptness at the pick-and-roll. He's probably not as tough as an NBA team would prefer but Plumlee hasn't fully tapped his potential yet either. Most pundits have him in the top 15 of their mock drafts.
Duke has considerable talent at the guard position but what will set them apart in the tournament is having a big post player like Plumlee who can hurt teams in a lot of ways. It's not easy to do, but to stop Duke, teams will have to find a way to stop Plumlee.
Mark Chalifoux is a college basketball contributor for CBS Local Digital Media and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @markchalifoux on Twitter.