Some of the top seeds in this year’s NCAA tournament haven’t faced a real tough test so far and were able to move on despite poor play from their stars. Teams like Duke, Michigan State and Florida have enough talent to make it through the early rounds, but if they want to advance further, their best players need to shine.
Ryan Kelly, Duke
Duke cruised to a 73-61 win over Albany and a 66-50 victory against Creighton without much help from their senior forward. Kelly, who averages 13.3 points and 5.8 rebounds a game, only dropped eight points against a weak Albany squad and turned the ball over three teams. One game is not a big deal, especially in an easy contest, but in the Blue Devils second game against Minnesota, Kelly was nonexistent.
In 28 minutes of play, Kelly only took five shots. He made none of them.
Kelly finished the game with one point and three rebounds. Kelly only has 13 shots in two games, but he averaged over nine a game this season. Duke was able to get by with Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee, but faces a much tougher opponent in Michigan State and Kelly will need to step up and take more shots—and hopefully make them.
Keith Appling, Michigan State
Tom Izzo’s point guard has an injury excuse for his current struggles, but needs to play well if the Spartans want to take down Duke. Appling is Michigan State’s leading scorer with 13.6 points per game this season and has proven to be more of a scorer than a pure point guard. In the Spartans first tournament victory over Valparaiso, Appling scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds before tweaking his knee.
In the next round, he was still able to play against Memphis, but it was clear he wasn’t 100 percent. In 28 minutes, Appling had two points and two turnovers before injuring his shoulder and leaving for the rest of the game. He’s going to start against Duke tonight after a week of rest.
When healthy, Appling doesn’t need to pick up his game much at all, but with these injuries, he has to quickly learn how to play his game while hurt.
Kenny Boynton, Florida
At times this year, the Florida Gators have looked like one of the best teams in the country. At other times, they have struggled against weak competition. The same can be said about Kenny Boynton, who has been very sporadic this season. Boynton has scored over 20 points five times and in the games that follow he averages 6.6 points. He explodes some nights and disappears on others.
Boynton is averaging 12.1 points a game this season, which is much lower than his potential suggests. The Gators need him to get out of his current slump that produced average play in the first two games of the tournament. In an easy victory over Northwestern State, Boynton dropped 11 points, but in the next game against Minnesota he wasn’t even a factor.
The senior guard only recorded seven points, one rebound, one assist and three turnovers. Florida Gulf Coast is a team that lives by transition basketball and a lot of it comes from rebounds off of long misses. Boynton needs to step his game up and hit long jump shots—not only to add points, but to avoid the intimidating fast break of “Dunk City”.