It is understandable that after Ryan Kelly’s 36 point performance, one head coach Mike Krzyzewski called a performance “for the ages,” that many would be in a frenzy.
The excitement in the Duke fan base is palpable, but some members of the media also have taken Kelly’s re-emergence and subsequent performance to say that Duke is the No. 1 team in the country and should be the favorite to win the National Championship. CBSSports.com writer Jeff Goodman penned a column following Duke’s win against Miami saying as much.
I’m as excited as the next guy for Kelly’s return and it is something that should help Duke be a better team, but shouldn’t we all wait and see how he progresses and how the team reacts after more than one game before we coronate the Blue Devils? One game does not a championship run make and Saturday’s victory, for all its importance, just wasn’t that important.
Well, let me say it was more important as a symbolic victory than any sign that Duke is suddenly back to being the team they were prior to Kelly getting hurt.
No one certainly expected the kind of night Kelly had. His shot was like a heat-seeking missile that found its target time and time again. It was just one of those night that when the ball left his hands, he and everyone else knew it was going to go in.
Lost in the fold of Kelly’s performance though is the game was another in a recent series of unimpressive and down right ugly performances from Mason Plumlee.
Plumlee has regressed over the last several weeks. He has been getting manhandled down low, pushed from the blocks and forced to take up position way too far from the basket to be the same kind of effective player he was earlier in the year. He has reverted back to the player who catches the ball starts a move and then has no idea what he is going to do with the ball.
His instincts just don’t seem to be very good right now and if Duke is going to win a National Championship it needs Plumlee to produce and be an effective post scorer. But not only that he has to do more defensively. He at times looks like he has no interest in playing defense, or fighting for a rebound.
He is stripped far to early, puts up far too little defense around the basket and generally appears disinterested on the defensive end of the court. Granted against Miami, Duke’s guards were often beaten badly leaving whoever was in the post to either leave their man to help leaving an open dunk or giving the Hurricanes’ guards wide open looks in the paint.
Kelly’s return should help with Plumlee and Duke needs him to return to form for its end of year run.
Seth Curry also has struggled a bit, off and on though he has been one of the more consistent players on the team. Rasheed Sulaimon has juggled between being a freshman looking lost to an absolute dominating player. He needs to find a balance preferably leaning toward the dominant scorer he has shown flashes of.
Quinn Cook may have benefited the most from Kelly’s return as it should free up more opportunities to drive. And when his shot is on he is another dangerous weapon. Aside from Kelly, Cook was the most impressive player on the court for Duke.
Another fact that was lost in the victory over Miami was the fact that Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy, who have played well of late, and Jefferson who has done a yeoman’s job helping fill in in Kelly’s absence did not play. There is no way Duke can make a deep tournament run, especially in the conference tournament without one or both of those guys getting some minutes.
Duke relying on just seven players will mean lots of fatigues with a three games in three days tournament. The NCAA Tournament gives you a day off in between games but having some bodies that you can put in the game, even for a few minutes, helps the regulars.
It isn’t my intention to be a buzz kill but there are facts that lead me to feel Duke’s path to titles isn’t as smooth as some may be thinking it is after their win over Miami. Granted it was a big win, and important and symbolic win, but right now the expectations have risen and in my opinion unrealistically.
Kelly’s return is important but one guy doesn’t make a team, even a very good player like Kelly. Duke has to find some balance going forward or they are going to fall short of these expectations that like Kelly have suddenly re-emerged.
Is Duke good enough to cut down the nets? Yes they are. Does Kelly’s return make that a definite? No, it doesn’t.
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