Is Duke a great team?
How Blue Devils' performance with Kelly defies 'no great teams' argument
If there's one thing that's certain about this college basketball season, it's that there are "no great teams this season." You've heard it, I've heard it, we've all heard it to the point where we can repeat it to one another at the start of any discussion on March Madness and the NCAA tournament. Well, we say, there are no great teams in this bracket, so it's wide open. Anything can happen.
And, truth be known, I understand completely why this staple of conventional wisdom has arisen. Last season was different in two key respects. First, the Kentucky Wildcats looked like a great team because they ran the table in a major conference, something that had not been done in eight seasons. Second, no other team looked like a natural and fitting rival for co-greatness status. Certainly there were very good teams with great records one season ago -- the Syracuse Orange come to mind -- but for better or worse, the Wildcats separated themselves from the rest of the field in our eyes and were declared the consensus NCAA tournament favorite in advance. UK was "the" great team.
That is not the case this season. This season's top teams all have looked great at times, but at other times they've looked very normal. Gonzaga did run the table, but that was in the relatively weak West Coast Conference, and anyway, the Bulldogs did lose by 11 at home to Illinois. Louisville suffered through a three-game losing streak in January. Indiana lost not one but two home games, to Wisconsin and Ohio State, the latter on senior night. And we all remember Duke getting blown off the floor in the Blue Devils' road game at Miami. These are not the behaviors we associate with great teams.
But what if there really is a great team this season, after all? What about that sound byte you hear every time you watch a Duke game? The Blue Devils are undefeated this season when Ryan Kelly is in the lineup. The 6-foot-11 senior was sidelined for six weeks in January and February with a foot injury, but in games where Kelly's been available, Mike Krzyzewski's team is 18-0.
That's not to say Duke still would be undefeated heading into its conference tournament (ACC tourney play begins Thursday on ESPNU) if Kelly had been available all season. Reaching mid-March with a zero in the loss column is an exceedingly rare feat. Then again, eventual national champion Kentucky was bestowed with the "great team" label even though the Wildcats lost early last season at Indiana. Would the Blue Devils enjoy a similar status this season if only they'd been healthy?
To read John Gasaway's full take on how good Duke is with a healthy Ryan Kelly, you must be an ESPN Insider.
We see that you are not an ESPN Insider. Upgrade today and gain access to our exclusive coverage.
MORE MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL HEADLINES
- UNC strikes again, topples Michigan State
- GMU player suspended for stepping on foe
- Report: Vandy's Henderson hurt ACL, MCL
- Ohio State rips Maryland in Big Ten/ACC tilt
MOST SENT STORIES ON ESPN.COM
Insider CBB content
• Greenberg/Telep: Kansas Jayhawks
• Greenberg/Finkelstein: Marquette
• Gasaway/Rankin: Indiana Hoosiers
• Gasaway/Rankin: Michigan Wolverines
• Gasaway/Rankin: Ohio State Buckeyes
• Greenberg/Finkelstein: Memphis Tigers
• Gasaway/Rankin: Florida Gators
• Greenberg/Telep: Kentucky Wildcats
• Gasaway/Finkelstein: Louisville Cardinals
• Gasaway/Finkelstein: Syracuse Orange
• Greenberg/Biancardi: NC State Wolfpack
• Biancardi/Gasaway: Duke Blue Devils
• Biancardi/Gasaway: North Carolina Tar Heels
• Biancardi/Gasaway: Arizona Wildcats
• Greenberg/Telep: UCLA Bruins
• Gasaway: Breakout second-year coaches
• Lunardi: Could Louisville repeat as champs?
• Greenberg: UVA tops list of surprise teams
• Fraschilla: How returning stars can improve
• Gasaway: Top title challengers to Kentucky
• Lunardi: Who will earn No. 1 seeds in 2014?
• Telep: Latest on No. 13 junior Theo Pinson
• Rankin: What Wiggins means for Kansas
• Biancardi: KU to prep Wiggins for NBA success
• Telep: Updated look at top recruits
• Roundtable: Most impressive on AAU circuit?
• Ford: NBA draft lottery preview
• Ford: Winners from the NBA draft combine
• Fraschilla: Burke the draft's top point guard?
• Ford: Measurements concern some GMs
• Ford: Why Wiggins would go No. 1 in 2013
Jay Bilas Blog
Jay's take on latest from around the nation
Analysis from Fraschilla, Greenberg and Lunardi
Get news and rumblings before anyone
Hollinger's College PER
College basketball's top players
Get wagering advice for every game