Duke's hopes of claiming its 20th ACC Tournament title and fourth in a row, sustained serious damage on Tuesday with the announcement that Ryan Kelly would not be available to play. The junior forward from Raleigh suffered a sprain in his right foot during practice and will be held out of action until the NCAA Tournament as a result.
A smart move by Mike Krzyzewski. After all, the Blue Devils have already punched their ticket to the Big Dance thanks to a catching resume that includes a 26-5 record, quality wins over Michigan State, Kansas and North Carolina, and the fourth-best RPI in the nation. What's more, it seemed unlikely that the Devils would claim the ACC postseason title even with Kelly in the lineup, particularly after getting walloped by arch rival and regular season champion North Carolina in Durham on Saturday, 88-70.
That being said, the Dukies can't help but be disappointed by Kelly's absence and hopeful that it doesn't last too long. At 6'11", Kelly is one of Duke's deadliest three-point shooters (40.8 percent from deep) and most effective rebounders (5.4 boards per game).
To be sure, the Blue Devils still sport their fair share of players who can do one or the other. Austin Rivers, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins all shoot 38.3 percent or better from behind the three-point line, and the Plumlee brothers combine for 16.4 rebounds per night.
Still, losing a player of Kelly's talent and importance from Coach K's tight rotation doesn't bode well for Duke's odds of success in Atlanta this week. The Blue Devils will await the winner of Thursday's matchup Clemson and Virginia Tech, and should they win on Friday, will likely spend Saturday on the court with Florida State, to whom they lost at Cameron Indoor in a last-second shot by Michael Snaer earlier this season.
Even without Kelly, the Devils may still have enough to advance to the final, thanks to the overall weakness of the conference.
However, if Sunday's turns out to be a rubber match with the Tar Heels, Kelly's absence figures to prove crippling to Duke's hopes of keeping the game close, much less winning it.
Who'd have thought that Kelly, a guy who just last year was thought to be a bust, would turn out to be so pivotal to Duke's destiny heading into March Madness?