From there, his return to the court coincided with a stretch of games against sturdy opponents. Coach Mike Krzyzewski said Plumlee lost the chance for a normal progression of building on early games.
But he was good enough to be considered a starter until his injury occurred in the week prior to the opener. Getting him back to that level will be one of Duke's priorities.
The Blue Devils like the way he runs the court and he gives the team another physical presence in the lane. Certainly he has looked rusty at times, but the layoff from games around the holidays could give him a chance to get up to speed.
The benefit of Plumlee's down time has been some solid play from senior center Brian Zoubek, who at times nearly became an afterthought in some games in past seasons. It might also have meant more playing time for Miles Plumlee, the freshman's older brother who's developing into a key player.
Krzyzewski typically discusses the importance of dealing with adversity, and the Blue Devils seemed to handle their potential troubles without many hitches. They were 9-1 through 10 games and had developed a level of comfort with a system that's utilizing taller players than in the past.
--With two games remaining in 2009, Duke held a 51-4 record in the month of December for the past 10 years. The two games on the docket before January of this season were nonleague outings against Long Beach State and Pennsylvania. The Blue Devils had won 204 of their last 207 home games against nonconference opponents.
--Sophomore F Olek Czyz is transferring from Duke with designs on playing for another Division I school. He rarely seemed to fit into the system, but he found his way into the starting lineup for the first two games this season because of Mason Plumlee's injury and Nolan Smith's suspension. He played in six of the team's first nine games before his impending transfer was announced. He averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in those games. His leaping ability made him a crowd favorite in his limited action.
JANUARY AT A GLANCE:
The Blue Devils will start the new year with an ACC game against Clemson, and it could be considered a grudge match of some sorts. The teams met only once last season, and that resulted in a 27-point road loss for the Blue Devils. They'll get together twice this season, and the first one is a home outing for Duke. In many ways, there's no sense in looking much beyond this game because this could help set the tone for what's to come.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"If they want to lob it up, we'll wipe it off the glass and go on a fast break." -- Senior F Lance Thomas, who seems perplexed by the notion that Duke's added height prevents the Blue Devils from making athletic plays. They'd used their height by more than doubling the number of blocked shots compared to their opponents (a 57-28 spread).
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: The Blue Devils headed into a holiday break with a dominating second-half performance against Gonzaga in a game played at Madison Square Garden in New York. It was the type of game that should feed even higher expectations when the Blue Devils resume action. They've typically played well in the final pre-holiday game, and going into a layoff with a high-profile victory is a nice bonus. All the parts are starting to line up.
- Duke 80, St. John's 71
- Duke 113, Gardner-Webb 68
- Duke 76, Gonzaga 41
- vs. Long Beach State, Tuesday, Dec. 29
- vs. Pennsylvania, Thursday, Dec. 31
- vs. Clemson, Sunday, Jan. 3
- vs. Iowa State, Wednesday, Jan. 6, in Chicago
- at Georgia Tech, Saturday, Jan. 9
IN FOCUS: The Blue Devils have two more nonleague games before starting ACC competition against Clemson. That sizes up as a game between teams expected to be near the top of the conference standings. But for Duke, it's also the first meeting with Clemson since the Tigers delivered a 27-point whipping last season. While it sounds strange for Duke to be monitoring progress based on a comparison with Clemson, it's certainly an interesting starting point to the ACC schedule.
--G Jon Scheyer is directing the offense with precision, and he seems to be aided by the fact that many observers and probably opponents, too, tend to think of him as a pure shooter from the wings. While his shooting is an asset, an assist-to-turnover ratio of better than 6-to-1 that has led the nation in the early going is what's defining him most.
--G Nolan Smith continues to be relied upon as a defensive stopper in the backcourt, but he seems to be relishing his role as a key option at the offensive end. His range has improved, and he seems to be able to find opportunities to launch shots with greater ease than in the past.
--F Miles Plumlee is sometimes in need of a confidence boost, and one thing that has helped him while his offensive production has wavered is what he has shown an ability to do at the defensive end. Duke's ability to attack defensively on the perimeter might depend in large part on Plumlee's alertness in being a shot blocker in the middle. He was outscored by his younger brother, Mason Plumlee, 4-2 in the last game before the holiday break, so look for the Blue Devils to work to bolster his confidence on offense when they return to action. Miles Plumlee has scored a season-low two points in two of the last three games.