To begin with, the Blue Devils are 17-0 with Kelly in the lineup. No team in the nation, let alone the ACC, has figured out how to beat Duke when Kelly is playing. Duke was 9-4 while Kelly was injured for almost two months, and they can take comfort in knowing that those losses came without him in the lineup.
This might seem an obvious point at first, but it is important to remember that Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina State and Miami (FL) all beat a Duke team that wasn’t at full-strength. As Kelly and the rest of the team demonstrated in defeating Miami (FL) last week, nobody can beat them when he is in the lineup and so the losses they incurred to these four teams are all hollow results.
Going beyond the Kelly Factor, Duke’s starting five is unparalleled in the ACC. With all due respect to the Hurricanes and the great season they have had, they — much like the rest of the ACC — cannot stand up to Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon.
There is too much talent here for any of these guys to be double-teamed, because to do so would be suicide. They are too quick and versatile in one-on-one matchups for Miami (FL), North Carolina, or anyone else in the ACC to be able to keep up with them for 40 minutes. Unless one of these five gets injured again, no one will be able to beat them in this tournament.
On top of all this, the Blue Devils have all the momentum. The Hurricanes are reeling after losing three of four, and while the Tar Heels have won six in a row, they have lost their last three games against ranked opponents this season — including to Duke last month — so they have yet to prove they can win big games.
Not only are the Blue Devils back to full strength with Kelly in the lineup, but if they can dispatch the Tar Heels on the road this Saturday, they will head into the tournament knowing they defeated their two biggest threats eight days apart.
Duke is the best team in the ACC now that they have a healthy starting five again, and when the ACC Tournament starts, they’ll prove it by winning the whole thing.