I have to say, I wasn’t ever sure this was going to be a huge issue for UNC. I personally always felt that, while he was very athletic, Mason Plumlee was a little overrated. However, this season is different. This season, Mason has repeatedly made me eat my words every time he takes the court. His skill level as a post player in college basketball has never been more apparent and I’m worried that my Tar Heels won’t have much of an answer for him on defense.
Maybe my opinion of Plumlee was based purely off of watching him try and matchup against the likes of Tyler Zeller and John Henson over the last several seasons which, more times than not, didn’t end up in his favor. One thing I do know for sure is that Mason will score and most likely score in bunches with the lack of experienced defense that North Carolina will offer standing between him and the basket.
The mind set for Roy Williams should almost just be “minimal damage”. Hopefully his post players can get him in early foul trouble and keep him off of the boards. We know he’s going to get the ball and we know he’s going to score, but the trick will be eliminating those opportunities he’ll have to get easy buckets and make him straight up earn every bit of his points.
One way to do this is to send him to the free throw line. For such a gifted player, Mason’s free throw shooting is less than ideal which is an opportunity for points lost in favor of the Tar Heels. Mason’s percentage at the line is 65.3% on the season which is good for sixth best on his team. Perhaps hacking Plumlee in order to prevent easy buckets is a viable strategy for Roy Williams. Unfortunately his post depth is already shorthanded with Joel James sidelined due to a concussion. For guys like Desmond Hubert, Brice Johnson, Jackson Simmons and even James Michael McAdoo to a certain extent, it will be a challenge balancing when to foul and when not to, because early foul trouble in the front court would be catastrophic.
Last week, I looked at how the Tar Heels should defend Kenny Kadji and that proved to be overly optimistic as he put in 17 points of work scoring from all over the floor. The scary thing is that Plumlee is a much more skilled player than Kadji as good as he is. I’m not sold that the Tar Heels will be able to make Mason less of a factor than normal, but if they can prevent the amount of easy buckets he’ll get from put backs and layups and make him earn his keep from the free throw line then perhaps his line won’t affect the Tar Heels so much. If Plumlee’s plays limited in any way, Carolina has a great chance to sneak by Duke tonight.