You want to talk about impressive wins?
No. 2 Duke’s come-from-behind, 72-68 win over No. 4 Ohio State on Wednesday night was impressive for much more than the simple fact that the Blue Devils beat the No. 4 team in the country despite being outplayed for about the first 28 minutes of the game.
Three days ago, the Blue Devils were in the Bahamas, beating then-No. 2 Louisville for the Battle 4 Atlantis title, an event that required Duke to win three games in three days over the Thanksgiving holiday. That’s tough enough, but Duke isn’t exactly a normal team right now. They get almost no offensive production from their bench and the only reason that guys like Tyler Thornton and Josh Hairston see significant minutes is because a) Seth Curry isn’t healthy and b) Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly always seem to be getting into foul trouble.
You could see it early in the game.
Duke looked a step slow to every loose ball. They were beaten on the offensive glass far too many times. Their offense looked out of sync. It looked like they were going through the motions. Sleepwalking, if you will.
That changed in the second half. It started with Quinn Cook leading the break, finding Mason Plumlee for a couple of dunks in transition (including this ridiculous lob). The Blue Devils started getting up into Ohio State defensively. All of a sudden their cuts were sharper and their shots just that much more open. Rasheen Sulaimon went off to the tune of 17 points in the second half, helping make up for the fact that Curry was banged up. Plumlee finished with 21 points and 17 boards. And Duke was still undefeated with, by far, the strongest resume in the country.
But we already knew all of this about Duke. For the last three days, we’ve been discussing whether or not the Blue Devils should have knocked Indiana out of the No. 1 spot in the rankings.
What hasn’t gotten as much publicity, however, has been the play of Mason Plumlee. Through seven games, he’s now averaging 19.9 points and 11.0 boards while shooting 65.3% from the floor and, astoundingly, 78.9% from the free throw line. And he’s done that while Duke has beaten Louisville, Kentucky, Ohio State, VCU and Minnesota.
I still have Indiana as the best team in the country.
That’s not going to change until the Hoosiers do something to prove to me they aren’t as good as they looked in the second half against North Carolina.
I will, however, change my opinion on who will win the National Player of the Year award.
Right now, it has to be Plumlee. And his schedule is only going to get easier from here on out.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.