Beyond attending institutions known for their academic rigor and prestige, the Yale men’s basketball team’s starting five and the starters for Duke do not share too many similarities.
The No. 12-seeded Elis boast three starting seniors, while No. 4-seeded Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski starts a group of players varying in experience, including two freshmen, two seniors and a sophomore. None of the current Bulldog starters were even nominated as McDonald’s All-Americans in high school, while Duke’s first five — guard Grayson Allen, guard Luke Kennard, guard Matt Jones, forward Brandon Ingram and center Marshall Plumlee — all have earned that honor.
“This year there’s a lot of pressure,” said Allen, a first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection. “We only have one guy on our team that’s ever started an [NCAA] Tournament game before yesterday, so it’s a learning process. But for us we can’t be timid, can’t be tight. We just have to come out here and play free like we have all season, just be confident.”
Allen has been the star for the Blue Devils. After a strong performance in the NCAA Tournament last season, including a 16-point showing against Wisconsin in the triumphant title game, Allen passed on an opportunity to enter the NBA draft and returned to Durham, North Carolina for his sophomore campaign.
The decision, at least until this point, has paid off for the guard. Allen boasts team-highs in both points and assists for Duke with 21.5 and 3.5 per game, respectively. He has scored 30 or more points four times this season, which is also a team-best.
The rest of the Blue Devil roster has combined for just one such performance, a 30-point game from Kennard on Jan. 16 versus Notre Dame.
By returning for another year at Duke, Allen has yet another opportunity to leave his mark on March Madness, though the Blue Devils must beat Yale on Saturday to advance to the Sweet Sixteen and continue their title defense.
Three of Allen’s teammates from last year’s title run — guard Tyus Jones, forward Justise Winslow and center Jahlil Okafor — departed for the NBA, and their missing production has partially been filled by Allen’s increased numbers and by the immediate impact of Ingram.
The freshman forward from Kinston, North Carolina averages 16.7 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Ingram is a consensus top-five pick in the upcoming draft and can provide matchup nightmares all over the court.
At 6-foot-9 and possessing a wingspan of 7-foot-3, the gangly Ingram is able to utilize his unique physique to create space for his smooth jump shot. Ingram’s size allows him to finish around the rim, and in a Friday press conference, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski praised Ingram for his ability to make plays.
Ingram credited his teammates for making him such a difficult cover for opposing defenses.
“They drive and kick the ball to me,” Ingram said. “I’m able to shoot the ball and able to get around slower defenders. I use my length a lot, and I try to use my quickness.”
The two other starting Duke guards, Kennard and Jones, play important roles offensively, as both average more than 10 points per game for the Blue Devils.
Jones shoots 41.2 percent from beyond the arc, which is second on the team only to Allen’s 42.4 percent clip, while Kennard leads the ACC with an 88.7 percent mark from the foul line.
Duke, which averages an ACC-leading 9.1 three-point attempts per contest, is 16–2 in Jones’ career when he sinks three or more triples in a game.
Kennard and Ingram also are avid three-point shooters. Ingram has connected on exactly 40 percent of his attempts from long range this season; his 75 made three-pointers rank second-most of any Duke freshman in the program’s illustrious history.
Plumlee rounds out the Duke starting unit, with the 7-footer saying he prides himself on setting the tone for the Blue Devils from the center position. He is the only player to start all 34 games this season for Coach K.
“I don’t get another go at this. I feel like that sense of urgency has spread throughout the locker room,” said Plumlee, a graduate student completing his final year of eligibility. “We’ll never be together with this group like we are right now, so in that sense, this season is a lifetime in and of itself … I try to tell that to [the younger players] but more than anything, I try to let them see that with how I carry myself and how I play.”
In Duke’s first-round victory over No. 13 UNC-Wilmington, Plumlee posted a career-high 23 points in what will be one of his final collegiate contests.
Once Plumlee graduates, Duke will not have an active player with the last name Plumlee for the first time in eight years, as Marshall Plumlee’s two older brothers, Miles Plumlee and Mason Plumlee, both played for the Blue Devils before entering the NBA.
Plumlee is the most effective Duke rebounder, especially after forward Amile Jefferson was sidelined in December for the entire season with a broken foot. Jefferson had led the team over Duke’s first nine contests with 10.3 rebounds per game before suffering the season-ending injury.
Plumlee leads the remainder of the Blue Devils with 8.7 rebounds per game.
“I think [Plumlee’s] the anchor of our team right now,” Ingram said. “We see how hard he plays every game, and we try to match his intensity.”
In the first Duke–Yale game, played on Nov. 25, Allen, Kennard, Jones and Ingram all posted double-digit scoring totals, led by 17 from Jones. Plumlee scored five points in 26 minutes of action.