As you’re no doubt aware, we’ve had our cadre of correspondents traveling around the country to each of the eight NCAA sites over the weekend. We’ve asked the guys to produce a diary of the games they witnessed including analysis, commentary and opinion concerning the sights and sounds at their venues. Our hope is that the diaries will give you insights into the games that you may not have otherwise had from watching them on television or catching the highlights package afterward. Let us know how we do…
Location: Charlotte, NC
Teams: Tennessee, Michigan, UNC, Long Island, Duke, Hampton, Washington, Georgia
Date: 18 March 2011
Correspondent: Frank Barrows
Looking ahead, first from Friday’s second- and third-round NCAA games in Charlotte to Sunday’s competition here, and to the remainder of the tournament, and even to what’s going on in Knoxville:
* No game in Charlotte, and possibly no game staged so far in the tournament, had more implications for the rest of the month than Duke’s 87-45 victory over Hampton. It marked the return of Blue Devils’ point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been out of action since he injured a ligament in his right big toe in a December 4 contest with Butler. His reappearance on the court, and the way he performed against Hampton, significantly changes how Duke can play from here on out and increases the possibility that it can win a second consecutive national championship.
Before Irving, a 6’2 freshman, saw his foot put into a cast December 10, he had in just a few weeks impressed all of basketball with his ability to create shots for himself and others, his capacity for seizing control of a game, his blend of high talent and high smarts. He was beyond precocious. Some said he was the nation’s best at his position. Some projected that he would emerge as the NBA’s first draft choice if he chose to go the one-and-done route. And with Irving driving Duke so magnificently, discussion ensued on the chances of the Blue Devils putting together an undefeated season.
The injury ended all that. Game after game, as Irving sat on Duke’s bench, his foot the subject of endless television close-ups, speculation mounted about whether he would play again this season. One fan website, Duke Basketball Report, has a thread entitled “The Kyrie Irving Toe Rehab Vigil.” It has had more than 372,000 views; most threads there collect a couple thousand, at the most. When the cast came off on February 4, anticipation soared. Word leaked out that he was practicing, at least a little.
So now he’s back, probably not in peak game condition, understandably a bit tentative, maybe a smidge rusty. But against Hampton, especially in the second half, he made several breathtaking plays that indicate he’s not that far from playing as he did in November, when he averaged 17 points and five assists. For example, he swooped in on a long defensive rebound, instantly revved himself into overdrive, sped past two defenders, and blitzed 75 feet for a fastbreak layup that created an eruption in the crowd and among his teammates. All told, he spent 20 minutes on the court, entering the game as a substitute in both the first and second half, and had 14 points on four-of-eight shooting, including two-of-two from three-point range.
Here’s part of what Blue Devils’ coach Mike Krzyzewski had to say afterwards about Irving: “I was really pleased. I thought he was very confident as it moved along.” More from Krzyzewski: “I thought our team was sharp, and I thought Kyrie was sharp. You can’t come on the court after being out for three months and … expect to be fluid. But I thought as the game went along, we were fortunate we got him to play 20 minutes.” And this: “We were trying in the first half to see what kind of rotation we might have using Kyrie, and then in the second half we weren’t worried about a rotation.”
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