When Duke lost Ryan Kelly to injury earlier this season, the senior forward was playing as well anyone in the ACC.
After missing 13 games because of his injury, Kelly returned with an unbelievable performance against Miami, scoring 36 points while shooting 7-of-9 from behind the three-point line. He then followed that up with another strong game against Virginia Tech, scoring 18 points while grabbing nine rebounds.
However, Kelly has struggled since then, failing to score in double figures in the last four games and most recently being held to one point against Creighton.
So, which Kelly can we expect to see when Duke takes on Michigan State in a Sweet 16 showdown?
According to SBNation.com, Kelly was averaging over 13 points and five rebounds per game while shooting over 52 percent from three-point range prior to suffering a foot injury against Clemson on January 8.
Kelly was also playing at a very high level on the defensive end for the Blue Devils.
Duke can continue to count on Kelly to be a reliable defensive stopper even when his shots aren't falling, which he displayed this past Sunday when he helped frustrate Creighton's Doug McDermott into a 4-of-16 shooting night from the field.
Against Michigan State, Kelly will likely draw the assignment of guarding Adreian Payne, a 6'10" forward who, like Kelly, has the ability to stretch the floor by knocking down perimeter jump shots. Payne is also coming off a strong game against Memphis in which he scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
Payne is one of the most physical opponents Kelly will have faced all season, but Kelly has proven he is one of the most versatile defenders in the country.
Yet, even with his strong defense, the Blue Devils also need their senior from Raleigh, N.C. to regain his shooting touch. It's unrealistic to expect Kelly to return to the scorching form he had prior to his injury. In the four games before his injury, Kelly was shooting nearly 79 percent from three-point range.
On the other hand, he's typically a much better shooter than what he has shown his past four games, going 0-for-10 in that span.
Ironically, the average between those two periods is roughly what Kelly has averaged during his Duke career—40 percent from beyond the three-point line.
The Blue Devils don't need Kelly to be spectacular on Thursday night—they just need him to do what he's always done. During the last three years of his career (excluding his freshman season when he played sporadically), Kelly has averaged 11 points per game and shot 40 percent from three-point range. (StatSheet.com)
If he can put up those numbers against the Spartans and the rest of his teammates can continue their strong play, the Blue Devils have a great chance at getting one step closer to the Final Four.
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