Posted: 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Next up for Duke is Virginia Tech, and while Duke won with ease in Blacksburg, and did so without Ryan Kelly, life is rarely that straightforward and particularly not in the ACC.
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We’re looking forward to seeing the marvelous Erick Green, who is having one of the best senior campaigns of anyone in recent memory. He’s leading the nation in scoring not because he’s a gunner but because that’s what his team needs.
Think where they’d be without him.
Green has gone from 2.6 ppg his freshman year to 11.6 ppg his sophomore season to 15.6 ppg his junior year to 25.0 ppg now.
That’s a remarkable progression for a guy who looked somewhat like a bust his freshman year.
The problem for Tech this season has been a lack of support for a brilliant player.
Jarrell Eddie has been a good player at times; so has Robert Brown. Things get more difficult beyond that.
Cadarian Raines is 6-11 and capable but hasn’t had a great season. Marshall Brown has shown promise but was injured.
Still, despite some limitations, Virginia Tech has usually been competitive and has certainly never given up. We have the greatest respect for their collective heart in the face of adversity and some credit for that has to go to new coach James Johnson.
He was dealt a tough hand but he’s kept his team’s spirit up. That bodes well for the future.
For Duke, there’s a lot of excitement after Kelly’s phenomenal return Saturday against Miami, and it’s understandable (Kelly was named ACC Player Of The Week, incidentally). But mark this: the odds of a second game like that are remote.
You don’t want to rule things out, good or bad, but how often does somebody go 10-14? And most of them outside?
What we may see in this game is that Duke has still not fully re-integrated Kelly and there may be some bumps along the way.
In the last few games, for instance, Plumlee has been hammered by opponents and looked tired against Virginia and Miami.
Kelly’s return should give him some breathing room, but he may still be a bit worn down. How quickly do they recover the high-low game they had before Kelly’s injury? They had the high part down against Miami, but not the low.
And how do the others – Hairston, Jefferson and Murphy – deal with their changed roles? Their minutes will go down as Kelly’s go up.
It goes all the way down to Tyler Thornton, who has been asked to do some remarkable things recently. His role will change too.
How they all adapt will be really critical to Duke’s success Tuesday.
It goes without saying, or should anyway, that beating the Hokies starts with stopping Green. That comes down to Duke’s perimeter mostly (although Kelly may be more help in that regard than you might think), and likely Rasheed Sulaimon and Quinn Cook will get the first call, closely followed by Thornton.
A guy like that always allows the possibility that someone else – Eddie perhaps, or someone totally unexpected – can get the freedom to shoot and the confidence to explode. You hope not, but it’s certainly possible.
It’s senior day at Duke of course, so you have to factor that emotion into it as well. Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Seth Curry have all had really interesting careers at Duke and like Green, are both arguments for sticking around. All four have profited greatly from spending four years in school.
Duke’s seniors have earned a lot of respect from Blue Devil fans as much for character as accomplishments. Watching them grow into the players and people they’ve become has been a really good experience. It doesn’t happen all that often anymore, so we hope they get the acclaim they deserve Tuesday night, not to mention the win.