Duke Basketball: Blue Devils Who Must Step Up Against Spartans

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2013

Mar 21, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Todd Zafirovski (left) and forward Ryan Kelly (right) during practice the day before the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at the Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports
Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

The hot-shooting Duke Blue Devils can beat the tough interior defense of the Michigan State Spartans and make the Elite Eight, but not without a handful of players stepping up their efforts. As good as head coach Mike Krzyzewski's team is, the offense is such that a bad night from just one player can sink the ship.

Given Michigan State's two interior forces in Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, not to mention a solid defense in general, Duke cannot reach the next round of the tourney unless a few players break out of their shells and start playing as well as they did in the regular season.

One man who definitely needs to step up is forward Ryan Kelly. He was a great scorer and three-point threat for the Blue Devils during the season, but has flat-out disappeared this tournament. Seeing as how he's a senior, he needs to demand the ball more so that he can end his college career with a bang.

If he and some other teammates can improve against Michigan State, then Duke is a surefire lock to get to the next round.


Rasheed Sulaimon

Granted, Sulaimon has not been flat-out awful this tournament. He has posted 14 points per game and is shooting 54.5 percent from the field. However, his first tournament game could be considered a cause for concern.

Against Albany in the round of 64, Sulaimon only attempted two shots, making one of them, over the course of 28 minutes.

That was probably just a fluke performance, but doesn't take away from how important Sulaimon is to the team's offense. He is averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 39 percent from long range this season. His knack for scoring is essential to Duke advancing in the tourney.

If he can demand the ball consistently and shoot the way he has all season, then the Blue Devils can charge past the Spartans and earn a spot in the Elite Eight.


Ryan Kelly

On the season, Kelly has averaged 13.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting 46 percent from the field and the same from long range. His tourney, however, has been terrible.

The 6'11" senior has posted just 4.5 points and five rebounds per contest over Duke's two tournament games, shooting just 23 percent from the field. He has not made one three-pointer.

This simply cannot be the case against Michigan State. Kelly is one of Duke's most dangerous offensive weapons, and a bad game from him could very well be enough to end his college career prematurely.

If he can regain his stroke against the Spartans, then Duke's odds of winning immediately increase.


Quinn Cook

This young sophomore did a fine job running the point for Duke this season, posting 12 points and 5.4 assists while shooting 40 percent from long range. Cook also managed 1.5 steals per game.

Cook has averaged 8.5 assists per game in the tournament, but his scoring has been borderline nonexistent. In that department, he has averaged just 5.5 points per game while shooting a mere 25 percent from the field. Like his teammate Ryan Kelly, he has yet to make a three-pointer.

The fact of the matter is that Duke cannot win on Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee alone, and Cook needs to pull his weight in the scoring department as well as setting up plays for his teammates. Duke may be able to score points in bunches, but the team is going to fall flat in the tournament unless Cook and some of his teammates can step up the effort.

If they do, a spot in the Elite Eight should be easy to come by.