Duke Basketball: Stars That Will Make Biggest Impact During NCAA Tournament

Alex KayCorrespondent IMarch 18, 2013

Dec 19, 2012; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils guard Tyler Thornton (3) and forward Mason Plumlee (5) and forward Ryan Kelly (34) and forward Alex Murphy (12) react after a foul was called against the Cornell Big Red during the second half at Cameron Indoor Stadium.  Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The Duke Blue Devils are fresh off a disappointing upset at the hands of Maryland in the 2013 ACC tournament, but have a chance to quickly regroup and get focused on the main task at hand—winning a national title.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s squad has earned a great seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament and looks to have a relatively simple road to at least the Sweet 16, but cannot underestimate any opponent along the way.

If the Blue Devils want to avoid a catastrophic upset, like the one suffered against the Lehigh Mountain Hawks in 2012, this team is going to need its stars to step up and play hard every night.

Let’s take a look at the three key players that will need to bring it each time they stop on the floor during March Madness in order to Duke to claim another championship.


Ryan Kelly

“The White Raven” is a critical player for the Blue Devils and, until Friday, was a good luck charm for the team.

Until the contest against the Terrapins, Duke had been undefeated in every single game Kelly suited up in 2012-13. Fortunately, the first loss with him in the lineup didn’t come in the NCAA tourney, but rather the less important conference event.

Kelly must improve upon his poor shooting, while also being more assertive. The stretch forward tried to improve upon the latter after attempting just four shots in the regular season finale, but finished the night going just 3-of-11 from the field (0-of-6 on three-point attempts) in Duke’s 83-74 loss to UMD.

When the 6'11" senior is on, he’s arguably the best player on the team. In his triumphant return after missing 13 games, Kelly helped the Blue Devils knock off No. 5 Miami by hitting 10-of-14 shots (7-of-9 3PT) for 36 points, while also adding seven rebounds.

With his ability to open up the floor for Duke and tendency to fill it up when he’s feeling it, Kelly figures to be a key contributor to any March Madness run.


Mason Plumlee

Even when the rest of his teammates are struggling, Plumlee seems to find a way to get his numbers.

The senior big man put together a ridiculously efficient 2012-13 campaign, averaging 17.2 points (59.2 percent FG shooting), 10.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.0 steal per game.

He’s a hustle player who will run up and down the court on every possession, give 100 percent effort on defense and find a way to impact the game offensively—even when plays aren’t being called for him.

Plumlee’s infectious energy is something that his teammates need to feed off of in the tournament.

As a top seed, the Blue Devils are going to face some hostile crowds that are hoping to see a Cinderella knock them off, meaning these players will have to rely on themselves and their teammates to generate momentum.

Expect Plumlee to step up and inspire, providing the emotional spark (and on-court prowess) needed to navigate deep into the Big Dance.


Seth Curry

As we’ve seen over the past few years, schools will not get very far in March without an elite guard.

Fortunately for Duke, its roster features one of the best in the nation in senior Seth Curry.

The 6'2" guard averaged 17.0 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game in 2012-13 and can really get going from beyond the arc. He hits on 43 percent of his shots from three-point land, making him an extremely dangerous tournament player.

Even if Duke goes down by a large margin, Curry’s shooting will get the program right back into the thick of things. He can close out games by hitting daggers from deep and absolutely demoralize foes.

I foresee Curry making at least one big three-pointer that either wins a game or sends it to overtime by the time this tournament is finished.


Be sure to download a printable NCAA bracket and track the Blue Devils progress throughout the tournament.