The Blue Devils remained undefeated with Ryan Kelly in the line-up, after the senior surprised the nation with his return from injury to score 36 points, shooting seven for nine from three-point range.
Duke was the definition of a juggernaut and was without question the best team in the nation with Kelly in the line-up, but wasn’t the same team without him. They survived after his injury but the starting-five chemistry wasn’t the same as the void left by the 6-foot-11 forward was too great to replace.
With Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, the Blue Devils possessed five players that could easily explode for a big outing. What made them so effective was the opposition’s defense wasn’t able to double-team any of the five as the result would be leaving a talented scorer wide open.
The chemistry of the starting-five led to a perfect 15-0 record when all five were together, like a well-oiled machine’s gears firing on all cylinders. Then when Kelly was forced out of the line-up due to injury, the machine operated as if one of its gears was missing, as the void was noticeable when the offense and defense no longer flowed with the same smoothness it had when the senior was healthy.
The team struggled at times, going 9-4 without Kelly, while losing games many believe would have played out differently had the senior been able to play.
However, now that Kelly is back and not only back, but proven his injury isn’t going be a factor, Duke suddenly returns to the status they owned early in January. The Blue Devils appeared vulnerable without the senior, but facts are facts, they haven’t lost when he has been in the line-up.
A healthy Duke team was the number one team in the nation, proving it isn’t afraid of anyone and is capable of beating any opponent. A strong showing in the conference tournament could make Duke the number one seed in the entire NCAA tournament.
It’s a big step in the right direction as many weren’t sure what to make of the Blue Devils lately, considering a loss to Miami (FL) would have tied Duke and the North Carolina Tar Heels with the same conference record on Monday morning.
Now any worries about the Blue Devils have been thrown out the window and a legitimate discussion over the possibility of the NCAA tournament’s first overall seed becomes reality.