Column: Weekend headlines: March is back (and so is Ryan Kelly)
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 00:03
I have been waiting a long time to say this: it is officially the month of March.
March, the month where Irish soda bread, corned beef and cabbage, Guinness, and just about everything else associated with Ireland reigns supreme. March, the month where Major League Baseball makes last-second adjustments in preparation for Opening Day. And yes, the same March that hosts the most captivating, nail-biting, and uncontrollable postseason in sports. March Madness is back, baby.
And what a kickoff to the month it was. A lot of games this past weekend featured an NCAA Tournament-level atmosphere, not to mention major seeding implications for league tournaments. Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Michigan’s Trey Burke beefed up their National Player of the Year résumés with big-time showings. Meanwhile, down in ACC country, Ryan Kelly’s 36 points urged Coach K to call the senior’s night “probably as good a performance as any Duke player has had in Cameron.”
As of Tuesday, Selection Sunday is not for another 12 days. Weekend headlines, on the other hand? That starts right about now.
The silence in Cameron Indoor had to be deafening. Ryan Kelly had injured his leg again.
On Jan. 8th, Kelly left Duke’s 28-point home win over Clemson with an injured right leg. The same leg, in fact, that held him out of the second-seeded Blue Devils unsettling loss to No. 15 Lehigh in the NCAA Tournament last March.
After the senior returned to score a career-high 36 points (including a Stephen Curry like 7-9 from behind the arc) in a win over ACC-leading Miami on Saturday, Duke diehards can begin to breathe easy again. Ryan Kelly is healthy, his jumper hasn’t missed a beat, and the team improved to 16-0 with him in the lineup.
I saw firsthand just how challenging life was for the Blue Devils with Kelly in street clothes. We travelled down to Raleigh to see NC State upset then No.1 Duke, and it did not take a southern belle to quickly learn that subs Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston were not as intimidating to opponents as Kelly is.
All-American candidate Mason Plumlee saw double-teams in the post more often than Kentucky sees guys leave early for the NBA. And, unfortunately for Plumlee, it was the Jefferson-Hairston combo (zero combined three-pointers on the year) rather than Kelly (shooting 56 percent from “3”) as a kick-out option.
Duke went 9-4 in the 13 games that Kelly missed, a solid record but clearly not the win-loss tally of an elite team who aspired to cut down the nets in Atlanta this April. Now that Ryan Kelly has returned, however, the Blue Devils are right back in the national championship picture. And they have their fearless, unshaven stretch-4 man to thank for that.
Teach Me How to Dougie
If this is the first time you have ever heard of Doug McDermott, or the Creighton Bluejays for that matter, then you’re probably as competent at watching college basketball as Michael Jordan is at drafting talent.
The most underappreciated player in the nation, McDermott spent yet another Saturday torching both the defense and the nets. In a win over rival Wichita State that crowned the Bluejays as Missouri Valley regular-season champs, Dougie had 41 points on a mere 18 field-goal attempts. He was 5-of-8 from three-point land, a perfect 10 of 10 on two-pointers, and 6-of06 from the line.
McDermott averages over 23 points (2nd in D-1) and 7 rebounds, and even more startling is that the coach’s son (his father, Greg, is Creighton’s head coach) has a career 56% shooting percentage despite attempting over three three-pointers per outing. That type of proficiency is otherworldly, which today is simply known as LeBron James-like.
Taming Creighton’s offensive prowess will be a tall task for whoever they face this month, as the potential No. eight or nine seed in the NCAA’s. This is mainly because Coach McDermott has something very much in common with the musical group “Cali Swag District:” you ain’t messin’ with their Dougie.
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Trey, Trey Again
How could Trey Burke not remember what the scoreboard read on February 12th at the Breslin Center? Michigan 52, Michigan State 75. Final.
In Sunday’s rematch, it became obvious early that the passing in MSU-UM Part I was fresh in the mind of Burke, college basketball’s best point guard. Even though the Wolverines failed to connect on a three-point bucket, they were able to survive a desperate comeback attempt by the Spartans in a 58-57 win. And, like Doug McDermott, Burke illustrated why he belongs on the short list of candidates for Player of the Year.