Duke Blue Devils: Ryan Kelly’s Return Changes Tournament Landscape

Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

With Ryan Kelly’s return looking more and more likely the Duke Blue Devils will have the senior back just in time for the ACC Tournament, one has to wonder if Duke transforms into not only the conference favorites, but national title favorites as well.

Whether Kelly plays a game before tournament time will certainly help his conditioning, however, it’s not the most important thing in the world. Duke should have plenty of time to get him court action in the conference tournament before the championship game comes around.

This is of course assuming the Blue Devils manage to make it to the ACC Title game, and given their performance without the 6-foot-11 forward, their chances are good. However, as everybody knows, in March anything can happen in college basketball.

As of this moment, Duke is not the conference favorite, as that honor belongs to the Miami (FL) Hurricanes. Regardless of what happens when the two teams play each other again on Mar. 2, Miami (FL) will remain the favorites as long as Kelly is out of the line-up.

The media will spin a great tale, making the Blue Devils appear like the better team because of their better brand name, however a breakdown of their roster and the team chemistry amongst the Hurricanes, makes them the superior team.

However, with Kelly in the line-up, Duke was a juggernaut and easily the best team in the nation. Their starting five unit had the best chemistry in the country as all five players were capable of exploding for monstrous games, providing mismatches and giving defenses headaches as the thought of a double-team was out of the question.

If teams wanted to double Mason Plumlee, he could kick it out to Kelly for a three-point shot. If one of the bigs were on the bench due to foul trouble and the other was doubled, either one could kick it out to Seth Curry or Quinn Cook for a three-point shot of their own. The floor spacing was incredible, the offensive weapons were endless, and the Blue Devils were undefeated.

Then when Kelly got injured, the gears that had the team running at near perfection suddenly received a massive wrench thrown into the system and Duke struggled. They’ve rebounded since, but not before showing vulnerability to teams with solid front court players with the likes of C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson and Alex Len.

However, with Kelly’s return the team would no longer have that vulnerability because as talented as the player’s mentioned may be, they are no match for the one-two punch of Plumlee and Kelly. Not only is Kelly a wonderful offensive option, his defense was underrated before his injury as he sat as a top shot blocker in the conference, to go along with his quality rebounding ability.

Few players can say their team was perfect with them in the line-up, however, Kelly has the ability to make that claim with his team’s record being 15-0 with him, as he averaged 13.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 blocks, and 1.5 assists while shooting 47.1% from the field, 52.1% from three-point range and 79.3 from the foul line.

Miami (FL) are the favorites for now, but if Kelly can return and be 70% or 80% of the player he was before injury, then the rest of the conference is in big trouble.

If Kelly is able to return at an even higher percentage, than the rest of the nation will see the return of the juggernaut team, everyone feared in the beginning of January.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the NBA and NHL for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

 

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