The Duke Blue Devils won the National Championship last March by out-scrapping their opponents on offense and out-hustling them on defense. It also didn’t hurt that they had three consistent, viable scoring options to look for in late-game situations.
Even though Jon Scheyer has now graduated and moved on to bigger and better things, two capable scorers return in seniors Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. The Blue Devils adds capable scorer in freshman point guard Kyrie Irving.
The Blue Devils should also get a backcourt boost from Liberty transfer Seth Curry, the brother of Golden State Warriors star rookie Stephen Curry. Seth led all freshmen in scoring two years ago at 20.2 points per game but had to sit-out last season per transfer rules.
While most believe that Duke won the title last spring because of their experience, another key factor to their run was the great play and poise displayed by Scheyer in the closing minutes of each game.
Whether it was grabbing a defensive rebound to ensure another possession or even hitting clutch baskets late in the shot clock, Scheyer seemed to always get the job done with the game on the line.
Now that he is gone, along with talented big man Brian Zoubek and defensive-specialist Lance Thomas, other players will have to step up to the plate and fill the void left by these players.
Singler and Smith were named co-captains for the 2010-2011 team at the beginning of the summer, and they both know what is expected out of them as the season draws nearer.
What is an uncertainty for the Blue Devils at this point in the year, however, is a leadership role that must be claimed by one the frontcourt players.
Without Zoubek and Thomas holding down the defense, one of the big men on this year’s team is going to have to assert himself as the go-to guy in the post and the vocal leader on defense.
It seems that Mason Plumlee, the younger Plumlee brother, who missed the preseason and six games with a wrist injury last year, is the best option now that he is healthy.
Last season, Mason averaged just 3.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game in 14.1 minutes of action. These statistics show that he never became a reliable scoring-option in the post as many thought he would become, although he did show flashes of improvement late in the season.
He was also used sparingly in the NCAA Tournament Final Four, seeing action for just over 11 minutes and making one field goal in the West Virginia and Butler games combined.
Although he progressed slower than most Duke fans hoped, Mason was overshadowed by the strong play of Zoubek, Thomas, and at other times even his brother, Miles Plumlee.
Going into his second year as a Blue Devil, Mason will be the much-watched player by many, as they wait and see if he can develop his game and perform like the at the level many had expected of him as a freshman.
The expectations are much higher for Mason heading into the new season, as well as for his older brother. But this time around, with injuries and other frontcourt players out of the way, they should both be better prepared to take on the challenges that lay ahead.