Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 3/14/12
However Duke is trending as it enters the NCAA Tournament in recent years is usually a pretty solid barometer of how effective the Blue Devils will play once in college basketballs biggest party. Even some of Dukes recent ACC Tournament championship teams werent sparkling in winning that event, such as last season, and its eventual loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16 didnt surprise those who had closely followed the team. Other similar examples date back to 2007 and 2008, years the Devils never got out of the first weekend of the NCAAs, they were also seasons Duke didnt win the ACC Tournament. As Duke gets ready to take on Lehigh on Friday night in Greensboro, N.C., its a little more difficult to corral that trending meter to confidently gauge just what the Blue Devils will do over the next couple of weeks. On the surface, Duke appears to be in trouble. Ever since a win at Florida State a few weeks ago on a night the team finally looked like it had serious Final Four potential, the Devils just havent played well. They were worse in the ACC Tournament, edging Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals before falling to Florida State in the semifinals. But the difference in Atlanta is that Duke didnt have the services of junior forward Ryan Kelly, who missed the tournament with an ankle injury. Kellys availability for the NCAAs is unknown and its probably he wont play versus the Mountain Hawks in what is now the second round Friday. If Duke has to make way without Kelly for a while, this NCAA Tournament stay may be a brief one. The Blue Devils, the No. 2 seed in the South Region, averaged 20 fewer points per game in Atlanta than in the regular season and converted just 10 of 46 shots from 3-point range after draining bombs at a 37.6 percent clip during the regular season. Its obvious they missed what the mobile 6-foot-10 Kelly gives them. But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said so many of the sets they run for Kelly are specific to his stretch four position that they didnt call those in the tournament. They are certain sets that he runs offensively that are kind of primarily with a stretch four, the legendary coach said. And what we had to do down in Atlanta is you eliminate that kind of stuff from your offensive menu. Youre a little bit more restricted with what you do. A limited menu for a team that already lacks offensive creators isnt exactly a recipe for success. So getting Kelly back, especially by the Sunday game versus either Xavier or Notre Dame, assuming the Blue Devils get past Lehigh, could be the final piece to advancing to another Sweet 16. Kelly isnt running yet, but to maintain his stamina and conditioning hes doing a great deal of work in a pool. Krzyzewski said Tuesday he hopes Kelly will begin getting some court work in by Thursday. At times, the way we were running offense down there, we were offensively challenged, which we havent been, until Ryan went out, the coach said. It will also help if junior guard Andre Dawkins can find his stroke again. Dawkins hit six 3s and scored 22 points in the win at FSU, but has totaled just three points one made basket in the five games since. If he can hit some early shots it can soften and extend an opponents defense, which might allow for more open driving lanes for Austin Rivers and Seth Curry, who approach to the rim has improved of late. Plus, Dawkins goes from a poor defender to a decent one when his shots fall. Regardless, Duke is still Duke and its coach is the best in the business. Krzyzewski was relaxed Tuesday, almost as if hes feeling no pressure entering the tournament, which is rare. His team has been disjointed at times and is atypical for what Duke usual composition. So hes just happy to have another shot at seeing what his club can do. The tournament has been great for our program and weve been good for the tournament, Krzyzewski said. The last 16 years our teams 14 times have been one or two seeds and one of the other times weve been a three. Our kids have done a great job and we just love being in the tournament. Well do whatever they ask us to do, and hopefully theyre asking us to do it for a long period of time. That, of course, may hinge on Kellys health.
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