USA TODAY Sports
Perspective to brighten your foot-injury induced gloom even as Nike conspiracy theorists get more grist for the mill
Ok, Duke fans. Let's try a little mental exercise.
Sit back for a sec and try to remember what it felt like last year right after the loss to Lehigh. That's right, wallow in that sensation. Roll around in it. Exactly.
Now, stop beating your head against the nearest hard surface and contemplate the following "would-you-rather" hypothetical : Would you rather have finished 22-11, had no wins against Carolina (sorry Austin), earned an 8 seed and advanced to the sweet 16 or would you take the 27-6, the UNC win and the loss to Lehigh?
If you are like me, you honestly probably take the former. The unrivaled glee of that shot against UNC and the overachieving regular season is more than neutralized by the extremity of the embarrassment of the Lehigh game. It probably shouldn't be, but ,there you are. The point is that, from a fan-psyche perspective, if your team is going to profoundly struggle due to injuries, a learning curve, or whatever, you would much rather take that hit during the early to middle part of the season than anywhere near the post-season. If Ryan were to be out for 4 solid weeks (an estimate that seems not unreasonable from what I'm hearing) he would miss 6 ACC games : NCS, GT, Miami, UMD, Wake, and FSU. If Duke were to lose 4 of those (which is a worst case in my mind) they will be 17-4 , 4-4 in conference and have 9 ACC games left to reintegrate. If he's out 6 weeks (add BC, UNC, MD, and VT) and Duke has an even split in those games that would leave us at 19-6, 6-6, and give Ryan 5 games to get back into form before the ACC tournament. A fully healthy Duke squad would still be looking at a 4 seed at worst and something like a 24-8 ish record ( depending on how the ACC's go). I would feel quite happy with those numbers frankly, and that is pretty much a worst-case - assuming Ryan does return.
Now, that Lehigh loss was the product of many things but one the primary reasons was the absence of Ryan Kelly. It became painfully apparent in that game how much our offense (particularly in the absence of a true, offensively skilled point guard) was linch-pinned to Ryan's involvement in it. Not to say that our offense won't suffer without him, but this year, the presence of Quin Cook (who has to now be regarded as the 3rd best PG in the conference behind Zo Brown and Erick Greene) and the uptick in Mason's involvement in the offense, will both ameliorate Ryan's absence considerably.
His rebounding and defense are a different story. And here is where the young guns will get their chance. Josh Hairston, while his effort and hustle are greatly valued, is on pace to set new standards for fouls-per-minutes played, shaming young Lance and Miles Plumlee both (Though to Josh's credit, he is also setting a high bar for charges drawn per minute played). This will be a great opportunity for Amile and Alex to get more playing time and prove to K that they have what it takes to be highly useful subs for the stretch run when Ryan returns. Personally, given his ability to use his Go Go Gadget arms to rebound in traffic and his overall tenacity in the paint, I look for Amile to really step up and make his presence felt when Josh goes to the bench. I actually think that there is a strong argument to be made for Amile getting the start ahead of Josh, but K's propensity to give his upperclassmen the nod makes the point likely moot. (ed note - see previous story in this stream)
So, anyway Duke fans, I hope that helps a little. Continue to send R. Kelly your best Duke Blue - White Raven Healing vibes. It can't hurt.