Mike Krzyzewski's Duke Blue Devils have to start looking ahead to the NCAA tournament. With conference tournaments just two weeks away, the end of the regular season is fast approaching.
After last year's historically bad loss to Lehigh in the Round of 64, the Blue Devils are looking to bounce back and make a deep run this year.
The Big Dance always comes down to who is hot, and this is Duke's five-step plan to getting hot when it matters most.
Ryan Kelly's importance to Duke cannot be understated. The 6'11" big man has the versatility of a wing and the ability to play inside with the best big men in the country.
Kelly has been sidelined since Jan. 9 with a foot injury, and since then the team has lost three times. After going 15-0 to start the season, the Blue Devils lost their first game without Kelly, and are 8-3 without him.
There is no timetable for Kelly, but it appears that he should be back for the tournament. It's incredibly important that Kelly be back and that Duke can get him back into the mix. If he comes back too late he could potentially disrupt the team's chemistry like Kyrie Irving did a couple of years ago.
Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee are two of Duke's senior leaders, and they have been vital to the team's success this season.
Combining for 34.6 points per game, they are the team's leading scorers and will continue to lead the way during the Big Dance. However, the two are playing 31.1 and 34.4 minutes per game, respectively, and they will be tired for the tourney.
Coach K needs to rest his stars—especially Curry.
After his injury history this season, it's important that he does not try playing through the pain to the point of getting hurt again. If Curry goes down, the team will lose its only senior in the backcourt.
Duke's backcourt has a few young guns who have never played on the biggest stage. These kids need to be mentally prepared for the final hurdle of the season.
Point guard Quinn Cook is a sophomore, and last season he only played 11 minutes against Lehigh in the NCAA tournament. However, this season he has become a star, and now he has to take his game to the next level for March Madness.
The other young star is freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, who has not stepped up in big games. In fact, in Duke's three losses he is shooting a combined 25.8 percent from the floor, including a miserable 0-for-10 shooting performance against North Carolina State.
These kids are going to have to play well in the NCAA tournament, and Coach K needs his guys to be mentally prepared.
The ACC tournament is the perfect time for the Dukies to get hot.
Conference tournament momentum almost always transfers over into the Big Dance, and winning three straight games at a neutral site will help the team get hot.
The last three times Duke won it all, they won the ACC tournament right before the Dance, and we could see that pattern continue this season.
At the beginning of the season, there was no team quite like the Blue Devils.
After knocking off three Top Five opponents (two of which came at neutral sites), the team was clearly the best in the nation.
I don't know what Coach K was telling his guys, but he had them all playing well, and if he can get back to that state we could see Duke win it all for the second time in four years.