Duke Basketball: Ryan Kelly Injury Highlights Blue Devils' Major Weakness

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Duke Basketball: Ryan Kelly Injury Highlights Blue Devils' Major Weakness
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The Duke Blue Devils might just be the least intimidating No. 1 ranked 15-0 team of all time. 

Of course, that certainly wasn't the case a few days ago.

With wins over Minnesota, Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, Temple, Kentucky and Santa Clara (most teams would gladly accept that as a full-season resume) before conference play, Mike Krzyzewski's squad established itself as a clear contender for the national championship.

But despite one of the most impressive starts to a college basketball season you've likely ever seen, Duke has always had one glaring flaw:

A lack of depth. 

When senior forward Ryan Kelly hit the floor in the first half of Tuesday night's win over Clemson, that flaw, much like the Grinch's heart, grew three times in size.

Unfortunately for the Cameron Crazies, the news got even more dreary on Wednesday (via ESPN's Jay Williams):

However, The White Raven himself offered a much more optimistic view (via CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman):

No matter how long Kelly is sidelined, it's a significant blow to the Blue Devils for several different reasons.

First, as we already mentioned, Duke's lack of depth leaves essentially no room for injuries of this nature.

As it stands now, Krzyzewski deploys a rotation of essentially six players: Kelly, Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry, Quinn Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon and Tyler Thornton. 

Those six all average over 20 minutes per game, while Josh Hairston is next on the team at 11.3 per contest. 

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Josh Hairston is a nice energy guy, but not exactly someone to be relied upon on either end of the court.

In Kelly's stead, someone is going to have to log some extra time. Duke certainly has talented big men with lots of potential (Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy and Marshall Plumlee), but none of the youngsters have proved to be ready to contribute in a major way.

That means Hairston, who has scored three points and grabbed two rebounds in 34 minutes over the past two games and is a complete non-factor on the offensive end, is the most likely to take Kelly's spot. That's not good. 

Second, Kelly's absence hurts the Blue Devils on the glass.

As a face-up 4, The White Raven isn't a good rebounder for his size. A rebounding percentage of 11.5 (695th in America) is actually downright atrocious for a 6'11" power forward. 

What reserve will be most important in Kelly's absence?

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But the Blue Devils are 115th in the country in rebounds per game and 275th in rebounding percentage. They can use all the big bodies they can get, even when those bodies aren't willing to bang down low most of the time. 

Finally, Kelly is a major weapon on the offensive end. 

He's averaging a solid 13.4 points per game, but more importantly, he is shooting 47.1 percent from the field and a staggering 52.1 percent from long range. He spreads the floor for the wings to penetrate, creates mismatches and is a big reason why the Blue Devils are 13th in the country in offensive points per game. 

There's no overstating how bad the Blue Devils need Kelly to make a swift return. 

With him in the lineup, they are a serious threat to cut down the nets in Atlanta. Without him, they are a threat to repeat last year's disappointing results. 

 

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