Ryan Kelly is all of a sudden the talk of the college basketball world after scoring 36 points in a win over Miami. All of the high praise is well-deserved for the Duke forward.
The senior missed almost two months with a foot injury, as it was unknown when or even if he would return to the floor this season. However, he made his triumphant return for the Blue Devils in time to face the No. 5-ranked Hurricanes.
Kelly shot 10-of-14 from the floor, including 7-of-9 from three, and he helped his team avenge its 27-point defeat from earlier in the season.
This level of contribution is no fluke either. The forward is a huge piece towards Duke contending for a title thanks to everything he brings to the table.
These are the things that the Blue Devils missed for the past 13 games and will get for the remainder of the year.
At first glance, one would think this would be the easiest aspect of Kelly's game to make up for on Duke. With quality shooters like Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, one player should not be missed.
However, Kelly is the best of the bunch. While he will not make seven of his nine shots every game, he leads the team with a .561 three-point percentage. If he had enough attempts to qualify, this would lead the nation.
Duke is known as a team that "lives and dies by the three." In all four of the team's losses, outside shooting was an issue, as the squad combined to hit only 27.6 percent of shots from deep. This is a bit worse than the 41.4 percent season average.
With Kelly, the Blue Devils have yet another outside weapon on which opponents are forced to focus, making the offense dangerous all around.
Duke was heavily outrebounded by Miami, dropping the season average to 34 per game. This ranks 208th in the nation.
However, Kelly led the team with seven rebounds, showing that he is an improvement over what the team had before his return.
Mason Plumlee is one of the best rebounders in the country with an average of 10.3 per game, but he had little help in the frontcourt. The committee of Josh Hairston, Amile Jefferson and Alex Murphy all struggled to get the job done.
Although Kelly has never averaged more than 5.5 boards per game in his career, he is a huge upgrade at the position as a veteran who knows how to box out and make the easy plays up front.
Considering coach Mike Krzyzewski did not even trust Jefferson or Murphy to step on the court on Saturday, you can believe that there is a big difference between the senior and the two freshmen.
Watching the game on Saturday, you could simply see a lot more confidence on the entire roster when Kelly was on the floor.
When the forward was healthy, Duke beat solid teams like Kentucky, Minnesota and VCU on neutral courts, plus very good teams like Louisville and Ohio State.
However, the team started losing in his absence.
The Blue Devils also likely remember what happened last season when Kelly was unable to play in the postseason. They lost to Florida State in the ACC tournament and then fell to No. 15 seed Lehigh in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
All anyone talked about over the past couple of months was that Duke could not win without its senior forward. Whether it was true or not, the players certainly played like it was.
With Kelly back, they have a veteran leader who can put the team on his back if needed. He has the confidence to have the ball in his hands in a big moment, and everyone in uniform will have faith at that time.
Kelly is likely not even the best player on this roster, but he has shown that he is the most important. With him back in the lineup, Duke is as good as anyone in the country and will look to win the fifth national title in school history.
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