Duke Can Survive a Month, Not the Season, Without Ryan Kelly

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Duke has become a lightning rod for cryptic foot injuries these days.

For the third straight season, the Blue Devils will be without a key piece to their championship puzzle, this time losing senior stretch-forward Ryan Kelly indefinitely to a mysterious right foot injury. Duke has not disclosed specifics of the injury and there is no timetable for Kelly’s return.

Nov 22, 2012; Paradise Island, BAHAMAS; Duke Blue Devils forward Ryan Kelly (34) reacts against the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Imperial Arena at the Atlantis Resort. Duke won 89-71. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This is all-too familiar territory for Coach K’s program. The Blue Devils lost all-world point guard Kyrie Irving nine games into the 2010-11 season with what was later revealed as ligament damage in his right big toe. Irving would return for the NCAA tournament before parlaying his renewed stock into the top pick in the NBA draft. One year later, the news wasn’t so favorable for Kelly, who missed all postseason play last March—both the ACC and NCAA tournaments—due to a badly sprained right ankle.

An initial report by CBSSports.com, citing sources, says Kelly will be out approximately two to four weeks and that the foot is not broken. If this news is accurate, Duke fans can breathe a heavy sigh of relief. What could have threatened to end the program’s title hopes may actually make the team more dangerous in the long run.

Short of a transformed Quinn Cook and Mason Plumlee at the top of his game (which isn’t always), Kelly is the most valuable piece to Duke’s balanced offensive attack. Without his presence at the tail end of last year, a Duke offense that had been very efficient during the regular season—albeit isolation-based with Austin Rivers dictating the attack—nosedived in postseason play. Forget C.J. McCollum’s overstated performance in the second round of the NCAA tournament (he hit just 9 of his 24 shot attempts that game), the real reason Lehigh pulled off the improbable upset was because Duke became discombobulated offensively without last season’s floor-spacing, mismatch-creating, unsung team M.V.P.

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