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Duke Basketball: Ranking Coach K's Biggest Worries This Season

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2013

Duke Basketball: Ranking Coach K's Biggest Worries This Season

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    The Duke Blue Devils are coming off of their first loss of the season, which snapped a 15-game winning streak and dropped them from the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll.

    The Blue Devils look to begin a new winning streak in their game tonight against Georgia Tech.

    However, this will be the second consecutive game Mike Krzyzewski's team will be playing without senior forward Ryan Kelly, who is out because of a foot injury. Kelly's injury has forced Coach K and his staff to make some adjustments and face some new challenges.

    Here are the biggest worries Mike Krzyzewski should have for the remainder of the season.

5. Mason Plumlee's Effectiveness

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    Mason Plumlee has been one of the most consistent players in the country this season and is a strong candidate to be ACC Player of the Year.

    The senior forward is averaging over 17 points, 11 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game while shooting over 60 percent from the field.

    However, Plumlee could receive more defensive attention while Ryan Kelly is out because opposing defenses no longer have to worry about the threat of another forward who can stretch the floor.

    Will this increased defensive pressure affect Plumlee's effectiveness and the confidence he has displayed thus far this season?

    Plumlee's struggles at the free-throw line have been well documented during his career at Duke, and he appeared to have turned the corner at the beginning of this season. But he has struggled at the line over the past nine games, which brings back questions about whether or not he will have the confidence to hit clutch free throws down the stretch.

    Duke needs Mason Plumlee to play great for the remainder of the season. And Mike Krzyzewski has to wonder if the big senior can handle the pressure.

4. The Health of Seth Curry

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    Prior to the start of the season, Duke announced Seth Curry had a leg injury that he would be forced to deal with for the remainder of the season.

    The injury prevents Curry from being able to practice regularly, but he has been able to play through the pain, being quite productive in his senior season for the Blue Devils.

    Curry is currently averaging over 16 points per game while shooting 42 percent from behind the three-point line.

    Even though Curry has been able to manage his injury, this has to remain a major concern for Mike Krzyzewski. Add in the fact that Curry has suffered two other ankle injuries this season, and you wonder if Curry's body will be able to withstand the intensity of an entire season.

    If Curry's injuries eventually force him to miss any time, it will be nearly impossible for the Blue Devils to replace him.

3. Consistency from Josh Hairston, Tyler Thornton and Amile Jefferson

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    When healthy, Duke has arguably the best starting five in the country. But health issues have forced Mike Krzyzewski into a position where has to rely more on his bench players.

    Tyler Thornton, Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson have all shown flashes of being very good players this season, but none have emerged as consistent contributors for the Blue Devils.

    Thornton will never be mistaken for Kyrie Irving, but he needs to play consistently strong defense without fouling and maintain the ability to knock down open shots.

    If Josh Hairston and Amile Jefferson can provide results similar to what they produced in the game against N.C. State, Coach K should be very pleased.

    The question with all three is whether or not they can produce on a regular basis.

2. Lack of Production from Rasheed Sulaimon

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    As Mike Krzyzewski mentioned in his ACC teleconference earlier this week, Rasheed Sulaimon is in quite a slump for the Blue Devils.

    The freshman guard had a strong start to the season, but has since seen his production drop dramatically—the latest being a 0-of-10 shooting performance against N.C. State. In Sulaimon's past five games, he is now 9-of-40 from the field.

    According to Coach K:

    "Since coming back from Christmas, he hasn't played that well in all aspects of the game. He's been OK, but he hasn't come close to playing the way he was."

    These struggles have caused some to wonder whether or not Sulaimon has hit the "freshman wall."

    If so, Krzyzewski has to be worried about whether or not Rasheed can climb over that wall.

1. Ryan Kelly's Injury

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    Prior to Ryan Kelly's injury, Duke was the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, and some were wondering if the Blue Devils could even go undefeated.

    The senior forward from Raleigh, N.C., was playing the best basketball of his career, and his presence on the court made Duke nearly impossible to defend. Kelly's ability to stretch defenses with his shooting ability combined with Mason Plumlee's presence in the post gave the Blue Devils a lethal combination of big men.

    Now that Kelly is injured and out "indefinitely," Duke is forced to make major lineup adjustments. The team loses Kelly's unique offensive skills along with his leadership and communication on defense.

    There is also concern about the fact that this appears to be a lingering injury for Kelly, as it is the same injury that kept him out of the 2012 NCAA tournament.

    Ryan Kelly is a key piece to the success of this Duke team, and Mike Krzyzewski's biggest concern has to be that one of his key pieces might be hindered going forward.

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