Duke Basketball: Will Ryan Kelly's Injury Help Blue Devils in the Long Run?

David AldridgeFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 13:  Nerlens Noel #3 of the Kentucky Wildcats and Ryan Kelly #34 of the Duke Blue Devils battle for a loose ball during the 2012 State Farm Champions Classic at Georgia Dome on November 13, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

In the 2001 season, the Duke basketball team was rolling along as one of the best in the country and a Final Four favorite until an injury to a key player had fans thinking the season was over.

Carlos Boozer suffered a broken foot in a regular season loss to Maryland, which forced Mike Krzyzewski to change his lineup and rely on other players to step up in Boozer's absence. Duke also had to change its style of play to make up for the loss of the big man from Juneau, Ak.

The changes Krzyzewski made turned out to be genius as it propelled the Blue Devils through the ACC Tournament and to the Final Four. Boozer then returned to help play a role in giving Duke it's third national championship.

The hope is that Ryan Kelly will return long before the NCAA Tournament, but could his injury help the Blue Devils in a similar way Boozer's injury ended up helping the team in 2001?

As Jordan Rodewald of Bleacher Report said, "Ryan Kelly's Injury May Prove to Be a Blessing In Disguise."

It has been an ugly four games without Kelly, but there are signs that could help Duke later in the season.

With Kelly being sidelined, Mike Krzyzewski has been forced to give playing time to other players, including Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy. Jefferson has been a revelation for the Blue Devils, providing rebounding and opportunistic scoring with great energy and enthusiasm.

Murphy has also shown flashes of why he was a starter in Duke's exhibition games, including having an 11-point performance against Miami.

Ryan Kelly's injury has provided these two freshmen the opportunity to earn valuable playing time, which has also given both of them confidence. Once Kelly returns, Mike Krzyzewski will be able to turn to Jefferson and Murphy off the bench to provide some needed depth.

The loss of Kelly has also forced more responsibilities on the Duke starters, especially Rasheed Sulaimon. Prior to Kelly's injury, Sulaimon was in the midst of a terrible shooting slump and Mike Krzyzewski challenged the freshman to continue to be aggressive.

Sulaimon has stepped up over the past four games and is playing with tremendous confidence, which was on full display when he scored 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting against Maryland this past Saturday.

If Sulaimon continues to play with confidence and stays aggressive, he will emerge as one of the best freshman in the country and a difficult player to stop in the NCAA Tournament.

Finally, when Ryan Kelly went down, Duke lost its most vocal senior leader. Kelly was the primary communicator for the Blue Devils on defense, especially in transition. Him not being on the floor means each Duke player needs to focus on staying disciplined and understanding where he is supposed to be at all times.

Duke has struggled on defense in the four games Kelly has been out, but it could be growing pains for a group of guys that are slowly learning their roles.

If Ryan Kelly is able to return at full strength, these factors will help Duke in the long run and they could be primed for another run to the Final Four. However, the worry for Blue Devil fans is that this is a dreaded "lingering" injury that Kelly will have to deal with for the remainder of the season.

But Mike Krzyzewski has proven he can overcome a foot injury before and he might be able to do it again.