Duke Basketball: Blue Devils Cannot Afford a Prolonged Seth Curry Injury Absence

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2013

RALEIGH, NC - JANUARY 12:  An injured Seth Curry #30 of the Duke Blue Devils lies on the floor during a loss to the North Carolina State Wolfpack during play at PNC Arena on January 12, 2013 in Raleigh, North Carolina. North Carolina State won 84-76.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
Grant Halverson/Getty Images

When Seth Curry crashed to the ground in Saturday's 84-76 loss to the North Carolina State Wolfpack, the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils' season almost came crumbling down alongside their star guard.

However, as it stands, the prognosis for Curry is looking good. Teammate Quinn Cook told Stephen Wiseman of the Herald-Sun after Saturday's loss, Duke's first of the season, that Curry said it was a minor ankle injury:

Here's what Quinn Cook said about Seth Curry: "He told me he feels good, just a little ankle (injury). He'll be fine."

— Stephen Wiseman (@stevewisemanNC) January 12, 2013

That sound you hear is Blue Devils nation breathing a heavy sigh of relief. Through Saturday's game, the senior guard is Duke's second-leading scorer at 16.0 points per game and has improved markedly on the defensive end since arriving in Durham.

The consistency of Cook and Curry have made up for the lack thereof from the team's other guard, Rasheed Sulaimon, who has been equal parts great and abhorrent at times as a freshman. Case in point, Sulaimon's 0-of-11 shooting performance in Saturday's loss against N.C. State.

Having Curry out would put an even greater burden on Sulaimon—and that's something few in Durham would be comfortable seeing.

All of that is quite obvious. But perhaps Curry's most vital trait is that he's a reliable warm body who eats up minutes for a Blue Devils team that is incredibly thin.

As anyone who has seen Duke play this season can attest, coach Mike Krzyzewski essentially has just two groups of players: his seven-man rotation and guys who get burned when games get out of hand.

Curry's injury instantly pares that seven-man rotation down to five, as Ryan Kelly showed up for Saturday's game against N.C. State in street clothes after injuring his foot. Though Duke is being awfully quiet about the full extent of Kelly's injury, he's out indefinitely. Coach K framed the injury by saying, "we are optimistic about his return."

To me, that sounds like a guy who isn't coming back anytime soon.

Losing Kelly is an absolutely crushing blow because he's easily the Blue Devils' most versatile player. Standing a shade under seven feet tall, Kelly is both Duke's best three-point shooter (52.1 percent) and its top shot-blocker (1.7 per game).

Losing Curry for an extended period of time with Kelly also out would be just about the worst possible scenario for Coach K. His team would then be without two of its three leading scorers and most consistent options as well. Kelly and Curry space the floor beautifully, making Mason Plumlee's job a breeze in the middle on offense.

Their replacements—Tyler Thornton for Curry, Amile Jefferson for Kelly—cannot even remotely approach their predecessors' abilities. Thornton is little more than a backup guard who can knock down an open three-pointer, and Jefferson has talent, but he doesn't provide the floor spacing of Kelly.

Even if Curry's injury is a short-term one, it will be felt almost instantly. Though the Blue Devils shouldn't have any problems disposing of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at home, their game against the Miami Hurricanes on Jan. 23 would be a challenge even with a fully healthy Curry.

Though they're unranked, the Hurricanes are also vastly underrated. Ken Pomeroy's advanced ranking system places Miami 18th, which is quite easily the second-best standing of any ACC squad.

Jim Larranaga has the Hurricanes playing smart, lockdown defense and harnessing their athleticism exceedingly well. They're the type of athletic squad that could give Duke fits on both ends of the floor.

After Miami, Duke has a matchup against an improved Maryland squad that can score with just about anyone in the nation. A string of losses or closer-than-expected games without Curry could take Duke out of the No. 1 overall seed conversation in March. 

If Curry's out longer, however, the prognosis could be much more dire.