Coach K Ups The Ante With The Possibility Of Kyrie Irving’s ReturnPosted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2011
From the moment that Duke cut down the nets in Indianapolis last April there was an expectation that this year’s team with the addition of the much-hyped point guard recruit Kyrie Irving could actually pull of the rare repeat. While many questioned Irving’s abilities before the Devils’ opening night game against Princeton those questions were quickly answered as Irving asserted himself as the best player on the team and quite possibly the country. With each brilliant performance by Irving the Devils became the odds-on favorite to win the national title and become only the third team since 1973 to repeat as NCAA champions. At its fever pitch, the hype around this Duke team became so much that we felt compelled to publish a column asking whether the Blue Devils could actually go undefeated.
Unfortunately for Duke, that was published before the extent to which Irving had injured his toe against Butler had become apparent (actually, the severity of the injury still isn’t clear). Following Irving’s injury the Blue Devils slipped from being the favorite to being one of the favorites and were at times severely outplayed at the point guard position like they were on March 5th against Kendall Marshall and UNC in a game that cost them the ACC regular season title. Throughout Irving’s prolonged recovery college basketball fans wondered whether Irving would return this season or if he would ever play another game in a Blue Devil uniform. Those hopes were boosted prior to Duke’s ACC quarterfinal win against Maryland when Irving ran through some drills before the game started.
However throughout Irving’s entire recovery, Coach K has remained relatively silent merely saying that the team is planning on playing without Irving. That is until today when he stated that “there is a chance that he [Kyrie] could play [on Friday against Hampton].” He went on to state that the decision would be made in the next few days and that even if Irving did return he would initially come off the bench. It goes without saying that the addition of Irving to the Duke line-up in any capacity would be a huge boost for the team and their chances of repeating. Not only would it free up Nolan Smith to become a primary scorer again without having to worry about distributing the ball, but it could also reinvigorate Mason Plumlee who appeared to have fallen apart after Irving’s injury although to his credit he has shown signs of life recently.
Thanks to what should be a relatively easy opening weekend (Friday against Hampton and almost definitely on Sunday against the winner of Michigan/Tennessee) the Blue Devils should be able to get to the West Regional without a significant contribution from Irving. If they were able to get to Anaheim Irving would have an extra week to rehab and get back in basketball shape. Despite the relatively strong field (a case could be made that the West is the 2nd toughest region) a case could be made that the West lacks another elite point guard and Irving at even 75% would be as good as any other point guard in the region. What it essentially boils down to is that Irving’s presence (even at less than full strength) would make Duke the odds-on favorite to cut down the nets in Houston. If they were to repeat we would be faced with the difficult task of determining how to rate this Duke team historically. They certainly lack the panache of the Christian Laettner Duke teams in 1991 and 1992 and they lack the continuity of the Joakim Noah UF teams in 2006 and 2007, but traditionally we rate repeat champions among the all-time greats on the basis that it is intrinsically more difficult to win after you have already just done it and you have a giant target on your back. Perhaps we will need to cross that bridge in early April, but before that we will just have to wait until Friday night to see whether Irving actually returns to action.