Selection Sunday is only three weeks away and right now it is anybody’s guess who the top seeds in the NCAA Tournament will be and Duke’s fate is no different.
Most analysts have Duke being a No. 1 seed right now despite trailing in its own conference standings by two full games and despite having been beaten by the team that sits on top of those standings by 26 points.
The Blue Devils have been as up and down as just about any other program in the country. They, like other top teams, Michigan, Indiana have shown their weaknesses and strengths. Gonzaga is another team that entered the mix and with a record of 27-2, they at least seem to fit the bill, but hardly hold the same resume that Duke or some of the other previous top 10 teams do.
Still you just never really know what to expect come March and with as much parity in college basketball this year as any in recent memory it is a fools errand to try and figure out who will end up where.
Duke looked like a clear cut Final Four favorite just two months ago. Back in December the Blue Devils looked like a juggernaut going through the toughest early season schedule in recent memory and powering their way to the No. 1 ranking. That was with a full complement.
Then in January the Blue Devils lost senior captain Ryan Kelly to injury and Duke came tumbling back down to the rest of the pack where they’ve batted around the top 5 for most of the second half of the season. During Kelly’s absence Duke has seen some of its younger players grown and develop as they’ve tried to fill the void in Kelly’s absence.
None have fully filled Kelly’s role but they’ve helped,as Mike Krzyzewski said after Duke’s victory over Boston College, the Blue Devils hold serve.
Now that it appears that Kelly’s return is imminent the questions about whether or not the Blue Devils can become the same team they were before he was lost have already begun.
Duke associate head coach Chris Collins said that Kelly is expected to return to practice this week though not timetable has been given as to when he will return to game action. Kelly said that he does not think he will be back in time for the Miami game though he hoped he would make it back in time for senior night on March 5 against Virginia Tech.
If Kelly does make it back by then that would give him two regular season games to get ready for Duke’s postseason run, starting with the ACC Tournament. Kelly says he has to work on his conditioning to ensure no other injuries come into play. Many have questioned whether or not he will be able to fully integrate himself back into the lineup.
Mason Plumlee said he didn’t forsee any problems in getting Kelly back into the lineup despite the Kyrie Irving injury situation which has often been used as a precedence for the current situation with Kelly.
If Kelly can come back and be effective then there is a strong possibility that Duke could make a deep run in both tournaments but it is hard to see him coming back with the reintegration going flawlessly, which is why the sooner he can return the better it is for Duke’s chances to make a deep run.
Still the history is against the return bringing the kind of success that many Duke fans are hoping for but there is no doubt Kelly’s return would be a good thing, but it does little to lessen the uncertainty of Duke’s post season future, but then again with the way this season has gone just about every team’s post-season futures are up in the air.
The Blue Devils’ might be a little brighter though with Kelly back in the lineup.