Duke basketball is 13-0 and ranked No. 1 as it heads into ACC play, beginning tomorrow at 12 p.m. against Wake Forest.
With non-conference play concluding with the Blue Devils undefeated, our four basketball beat writers took the time to make some midseason predictions.
Who is Duke’s MVP thus far?
Tom Gieryn: Mason Plumlee. I suppose you can argue that Seth Curry’s shooting or Quinn Cook’s dynamic point guard presence have enabled Plumlee’s monster season, but the fact is that the Indiana native has been a stud in three categories. The most important of these might be rebounding—he has been Duke’s only real threat on the glass.
Bobby Colton: Mason Plumlee: Is there another option? Plumlee leads the team in minutes, scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage—if you exclude Todd.
Brady Buck: Mason Plumlee. A double-double machine, the senior big man has consistently dominated the paint thus far this season, and he is arguably the front runner to win NPOY. At 69.2% from the charity stripe, Plumlee’s improvement at the line and ability to stay out of foul trouble–on a team that is thin inside and vulnerable on the boards–have been paramount for Duke’s early success.
Andrew Beaton: Mason Plumlee. No sense in being a contrarian here and trying to choose somebody else. The biggest number to me isn’t the uptick in scoring or rebounding, it’s the free throw shooting. It changes the way opposing teams play him and has turned him into a new player.
Who is Duke’s biggest surprise thus far?
TG: Quinn Cook. At the beginning of this season, the only question mark I had for this team was the leadership and maturity. I often said that if Quinn Cook were an upperclassman, Duke could be the title favorites. But his sophomore status hasn’t prevented him from playing like a senior, in terms of both production and maturity.
BC: Quinn Cook. I’ve got full blown Quinnsanity. The 6-foot guard who broke out in the Bahamas is third on the team in rebounding at 3.9 per game. On top of that, Cook is scoring in double figures and leads the team in assists, steals, and three point field goal percentage, and is second in minutes played behind Plumlee.
BB: Rasheed Sulaimon. For valid reasons, many will say Quinn Cook given his superb play orchestrating the Duke offense, but most expected a healthy Cook to make huge strides in his sophomore campaign. Sulaimon, meanwhile, was not expected to come in as a freshman and be a permanent starter, let alone an instrumental piece in propelling the Blue Devils to signature wins over then top-five squads Ohio State and Kentucky.
AB: To me the answer is Seth Curry. At the beginning of the year we were wondering if Murphy, ‘Sheed and Cook would eventually relegate Curry to a sixth man role. The reality? Curry has been arguably the best scoring guard in the ACC this season.
Who is Duke’s biggest disappointment thus far?
TG: Alex Murphy. Another one of my bad pre-season predictions was that Murphy would finally give the Blue Devils a true presence at the small forward spot, perhaps even forcing Rasheed Sulaimon or Seth Curry into a sixth-man role. The talent is there, but the opportunity clearly hasn’t been.
BC: Alex Murphy. This has less to do with his performance and more to do with lofty expectations. Murphy was penciled in as a starter during the preseason, but has averaged just 5.5 minutes per game. To his credit, in the two games where he’s topped 15 minutes, Murphy’s averaging 8.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, a block and a steal.
BB: Alex Murphy. Like most, I was especially high on the redshirt freshman to give Duke production at the small forward position coming into the year. As a reserve who sees limited action, Murphy clearly is not ready to play extended minutes and is developing at rate slower than anticipated.
AB: I think it’s easy to pile on Murphy because he hasn’t played, but my biggest disappointment so far is… Kentucky. At the time, it was a huge win with the Wildcats in the top five, but looking back it looks less and less important with John Calipari’s squad struggling and no longer even in the top 25. Cop out of an answer? Yes. But Kentucky’s slow start has really disappointed me.
Predicted final record for Duke?
TG: 31-0. I don’t know that I actually think this will happen, but what’s the point of a prediction post if not to be bold? There is only one ACC team ranked inside the top 25 as of this writing, and that’s N.C. State all the way down at No. 23. The non-conference slate is over, and I don’t look down the schedule and see any really dangerous games. Maryland’s rebounding ability and Virginia’s stingy defense may give the Blue Devils trouble, and the other two Triangle schools both have plenty of talent, but given the opponents I’ve seen Duke handle thus far, I struggle to imagine a challenge they couldn’t overcome.
BC: 28-3. The ACC is no joke this year. Let’s start with No. 23 NC State, who Duke has to visit in a week to play their first road game of the season. Even if they escape in Raleigh, playing at Cameron against the Wolfpack won’t be easy either. They also have two games against North Carolina, 12-1 Maryland, and Erick Green and Virginia Tech, as well as a road game against Florida State. Things happen during the course of the season that result in unexpected losses, such as last year’s home game against Miami. Then of course there was the Lehigh debacle. Mix in the fact that Seth Curry is dealing with leg injuries and will be all season and you have a recipe for a couple of losses in ACC play.
BB: 28-3. Despite a mediocre ACC, Duke will not run the table. Let this marinate: the Blue Devils have not played a true road game yet this year. Trips to Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and College Park, among others, could easily result in losses, especially if Duke has an off night shooting.
AB: 30-1. I really can’t pinpoint where Duke will lose, but I think they will go down in one game—they’ve made a habit of coming out of the gate slow this year and been able to get by based on just being the better team in the second half of games. Eventually that’ll come back to bite them in one game against a host of teams who could threaten: N.C. State, UNC, FSU, Maryland or Virginia.