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Where Ryan Kelly’s injury is truly hurting Duke: defensively

Jan 31, 2013, 1:07 PM EDT

Ryan Kelly

Dan Hanner did some excellent work this week breaking down the splits of teams that have dealt with injuries to key players this season.

I suggest you dig through his work, because it’s quite informative. But I’m going to highlight the most interesting splits that Hanner found. Here is our look at Duke.

When Ryan Kelly went down with another foot injury earlier this month, the opinion of those around college hoops was virtually unanimous: this would be a debilitating injury for Duke to try and overcome. Kelly was such an important piece on both ends of the floor, and the Blue Devils bench wasn’t quite deep enough to adequately replace him.

As it turns out, Amile Jefferson has actually become quite effective as a stopgap, especially on the offensive end of the floor. He was averaging 10.0 points and 7.0 boards in the four games Kelly missed before taking an 0-fer last night, and as Hanner points out, Duke’s offense didn’t fall all that far.

Their defense is a different story, however. Prior to the 75-70 win at Wake Forest last night, Duke had seen their defensive efficiency drop from elite — 0.842 PPP, adjusted — to borderline top 100 — 0.957 PPP, adjusted. That’s without the 0.986 PPP that Duke allowed to the offensively challenged Demon Deacons.

The reason that this Duke team was thought of as a legitimate title contender was because they were able to defend as well as anyone in the country, which is not exactly a trait that is synonymous with Duke basketball. And while Jefferson has proven to be a better replacement than many expected, the Blue Devils are not the same kind of title threat as they will be if Kelly does come back.

To see our take on Georgetown, click here.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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