Rebounding—it was a staple of Duke basketball when the team was dominant in the 1990s and early-2000s, but now it has become the biggest weakness for the Blue Devils.
Duke players have not been boxing out and crashing the boards like they should this season. Mason Plumlee has been doing all he can to alleviate the problem by grabbing 10.8 boards per game, but it hasn't been enough.
With Ryan Kelly out, the next closest rebounder on the team is point guard Quinn Cook, who averages 4.1 per contest.
Duke ranks 146th in the country in rebounds per game (35.7), and that has led to some problems.
In both losses this season, the Blue Devils were out-rebounded, and opposing big men have been averaging 48.5 points and 26.0 rebounds per game.
Whenever the Blue Devils play against a team with a talented big man, they get bullied inside. Opponents can muscle their way to the hoop against a Duke frontcourt that has become entirely dependent on Plumlee.
We know that the Blue Devils can find ways to overcome these rebounding troubles after seeing the team beat three Top-Five opponents, Minnesota and VCU early in the year. However, those five wins will mean nothing if the team is ousted in their first game of the NCAA tournament once again this year.
What we should really be asking ourselves is how this will affect Duke in the conference tournament and the Big Dance.
Ryan Kelly should be back for Duke by the time March rolls around, which will be huge. His 6'11" frame not only takes pressure off of Plumlee, but also allows for him to snag almost six rebounds per game.
With Kelly in the lineup the team is undefeated, and the rebounding woes have not been as severe. This means that the team could very easily make a deep run in the NCAA tournament if he is healthy.
Yes—talented big men will still terrorize Duke.
Yes—the team will still be out-rebounded too frequently.
Yes—the Blue Devils will overcome those woes.
Let's take a moment and realize that Duke had never lost this season with Ryan Kelly healthy.
The team played one of the toughest nonconference schedules I've ever seen, and Mike Krzyzewski still got his team through it unscathed.
How far will Duke go in the NCAA tournament if Ryan Kelly is not healthy?
Obviously there will be different opponents who challenge Duke in different ways during the NCAA tournament. And to be fair, none of the teams Duke faced had truly exceptional rebounders (with the exception being Louisville's Gorgui Dieng, who did not play due to injury).
If Duke runs into a top rebounding team like Missouri, Syracuse, Indiana or any other opponent who crashes the glass, the team could be in trouble. If the Blue Devils do play a tough opponent like one of these guys, it will come down to how well Duke shoots the three that night.
I'm not saying that Duke can't win the title this year. I'm just saying that the team should be concerned with its lack to rebounding at this point in the season.