It was pretty evident from the first half in Duke’s victory over Georgia Tech that the Blue Devils still miss Ryan Kelly very much, but that’s life.
There is nothing that Duke can do at this point with Kelly other than hope he gets better but they can’t just stay in a holding pattern as a team, they have to learn to play without him. In the first half against the Yellow Jackets, Duke’s offense was stagnant and not aggressive. Mason Plumlee couldn’t hit from close range and the entire flow on that end of the floor seemed labored.
Much has been made about how Kelly stretches the floor and opens up lanes and frees the middle for Plumlee but belaboring the point will not change the fact that Kelly isn’t getting out of the walking boot anytime soon. The latest talk is there is some hope that he may be able to return in early or mid February, but that is a very optimistic view point and as I’ve already written I’m doubting he comes back at all.
In the second game without Kelly, Krzyzewski again started Josh Hairston in place of the injured captain but in a change, Tyler Thornton started in favor of Rasheed Sulaimon who had been in the midst of a month long slump. It was clear from the tip off, though, that that particular lineup wasn’t going to be very effective.
Georgia Tech jumped out to a quick lead and the Blue Devils were getting abused badly on the glass. Mike Krzyzewski almost immediately went to Amile Jefferson who in many ways had a transforming game. Jefferson brought in an immediate change in atmosphere. He hustled and hit the boards. His impact was felt but that wasn’t quite enough to turn the tide. He finished the game though with 6 points and 10 rebounds and signs are indicating he could be an impact player in the near future.
“He’s (Jefferson) a good player. When you are playing behind Mason and Ryan there just aren’t the minutes. He’s been good in practice. We tried a little bit to see if he could go out on the perimeter but people played off. He started the second half and looked like a kid who has started for a while.”
Krzyzewski who is often maligned for not using enough of his bench, had essentially used all of it by the first 10 minutes in an effort to find some combination. At one point he had four freshmen including Jefferson, Alex Murphy, Marshall Plumlee and Rasheed Sulaimon on the floor.
That lineup didn’t last very long but it is a sign that Krzyzewski is looking and perhaps more willing to throw some of the younger, less proven players into the fire in an effort to find the right combinations for this team. He addressed it after the game that this team just isn’t the same without Kelly and they are still searching for an identity.
“This is a huge adjustment for us right now with Ryan being out. It is a whole different thing,” Krzyzewski said. “Because we are Duke everyone is about redemtion and struggles… we have a new team.”
Krzyzewski talked about how much not having Ryan changes the team but especially how point guard Quinn Cook is playing. He said that Duke’s point guard had so many options for the first 15 games of the season that the Blue Devils more or less played offense but without Kelly they are more apt to run more sets having fewer options.
And with Seth Curry’s nagging injury limiting him to at most two practices a week Krzyzewski talked about how hard it is to try and have that consistency in the team’s play in games when you dn’t have the practice time with all players available.
“It is tough to create the continuity with a new group when you have one practice,” Krzyzewski said. “There is no definitive time for Ryan where we could say he is going to be back . We have to move on.”
In the meantime Duke is learning to play with the team that they have and some of the players like Jefferson and Murphy as well as Marshall Plumlee are still trying to carve out and or define their roles on the team. It is a process that could take awhile and that could include more speed bumps along the way.
The starting lineup is a ig question for debate amongst the fans and the media. Without Kelly Duke has several options to try but Krzyzewski admits his lineup isn’t something that is set.
“You know what lets just don’t have a contest,” Krzyzewski quipped when asked about who might be starting against Miami on Wednesday. “I don’t know who the hell’s going to start next week.
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