Another day, another Blue Devil injury.
First DeMarcus Nelson went down. Then it was Shavlik Randolph. Then Reggie Love. Then Dave McClure. Now Sean Dockery has torn his MCL, becoming the fifth Duke player who has been in the starting lineup and missed time because of injury.
“It’s the kind of season we’ve been having so far,” Shelden Williams said. “It seems like we can’t get everybody on the same page for an extended period of time.”
Of course, the injuries haven’t stopped Duke from putting together a gaudy 21-4 record that assures the Blue Devils another NCAA Tournament appearance. But this latest injury could be the fatal blow to a star-crossed season for head coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils.
This is not to say that a national championship is totally out of reach—just ask Love, who filled in admirably when center Carlos Boozer broke his foot just days before the 2001 ACC Tournament. That season, Krzyzewski changed his team’s game plan with chameleon-like quickness, allowing the Blue Devils to claim their third national championship just weeks later.
But winning a title with this team would be Coach K’s most impressive coaching job so far. In 2001, Krzyzewski could turn to Casey Sanders, Reggie Love and Matt Christensen to do just enough not to lose. In addition, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy and Jason Williams’ superior interior play for their positions was enough to overcome Boozer’s loss.
Dockery may not have Boozer’s statistics, but his loss may be just as significant, if not worse. With the junior gone, the Blue Devils are without one of their biggest glue guys. He is the consummate teammate, a role player whose game contributions extend far beyond the stat sheet. His fiery intensity on the court is a big reason why Duke is a top-10 team right now.
“[Dockery] lets you know that he’s got your back during the game, no matter what’s happening,” Randolph said. “Whether it be just talking to you on the bench after you come out, on the personal level, or just giving you a hug after you made a [great play]—he lets you know that he’s always supporting you.”
Now Duke’s depth issues are no longer a problem; they are a nightmare. Krzyzewski has just three scholarship guards, J.J. Redick, Daniel Ewing and Nelson, at his disposal. Although talented, nobody in this trio can come close to matching Dockery’s ball handling or on-the-ball defense, exacerbating flaws in the Duke game plan that had already been exploited even before the injury.
The Blue Devils had enough trouble breaking the full-court press against Wake Forest with Dockery, and even he has had trouble guarding the ACC’s elite guards like Chris Paul, Raymond Felton and John Gilchrist. Without him, things could get downright ugly.
The onus of filling Dockery’s void falls squarely on the shoulders of Ewing, the only guard on the roster with appreciable collegiate point guard experience. But Ewing, who initiates most of Duke’s offensive sets, is a scoring guard who has not been impressive as a distributor this season—he has notched more than five assists just three times in ACC play. Moreover, Ewing has been plagued with foul trouble all season long and has shown a particular flair recently for picking up technicals that have limited his playing time.
If Ewing fouls out, Duke’s best options at the point are the talented but unproven scoring guard Nelson and walk-on Patrick Davidson, who has shown trouble getting the ball up court in his brief stints, much less setting up Duke’s half-court offense.
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