Without Ryan Kelly, the Duke Blue Devils were a solid team, but with their senior back in action, the Dukies look like the premier team in the land.
I know Gonzaga is currently holding the top spot, and the winner of the Indiana-Michigan game on Sunday will also be highly regarded, but neither team looks as tough as Duke with Kelly.
In the senior's magnificent return to the lineup, he drained seven three-pointers and poured in 36 points against Miami in a 79-76 victory. He also pulled down seven rebounds, showing no ill effects from the injured foot that kept him out of action from mid-January to Mar. 2.
He followed that up with a more human but still respectable 18-point, nine-rebound, five-assist effort in Duke's blowout win over Virginia Tech on Tuesday.
Scoring and rebounding numbers are all great, but the bottom line is wins. Quite simply, that's all Duke does when Kelly is in the lineup.
The team is a perfect 17-0 when their leader is active, and that is certainly no coincidence. Duke lost for the time in the first game Kelly missed on Jan. 12.
They were destroyed by Miami 90-63 on Jan. 23. Kelly obviously impacts the team as a scorer with his ability to make shots from the perimeter, but he's also crucial to the team's defense.
At 6'11", he is a solid inside presence, that understands and functions well in the team-defense concept. Duke desperately missed his 1.6 blocked shots per game.
The team allowed 76.5 points per game in Kelly's absence and just 61 per game in the 17 games he's played.
While he may not receive many votes for national player of the year, he is perhaps the country's most valuable player.
Duke will soon be in the throes of March Madness with their catalyst healthy, and there is no team in better position to go all the way.
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