Friday, March 18, 2011

Speculation Over : Duke’s Kyrie Irving To Play Today

No. 1 seed Duke’s NCAA tournament opener against No. 16 seed Hampton on Friday in the West Regional will mark Irving’s return to the court. The flashy freshman has been out since Dec. 4 with an injured big toe on his right foot, and coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to bring him off the bench and play him limited minutes. 

"He hasn’t played in a long, long time, but he’s the type (of) player, you give him the ball, he’s going to get out there and he’ll help us if he gets on the court,” guard Nolan Smith said. “He’s that good a player.”

With Irving, Duke was 8-0 with five wins over teams destined for the 2011 NCAA tournament.  The Blue Devils and Irving defeated Princeton 97-60, Marquette 82-77, Kansas State 82-68, Michigan State 84-79 and Butler 82-70.  Without Irving, they lost to St. John’s, Virginia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina.

Suffice to say, Duke is better – much better with the electrifying freshman in their lineup.  

Still, Duke clearly doesn’t want to expect too much too soon from Irving. At the time of his injury, Irving had Duke averaging a then-team-best 17.4 points while orchestrating the team’s uptempo attack.

Irving admits his current conditioning isn’t where he wants it, but he says he’s able to do nearly everything he could before he was hurt. He pronounced himself 95 percent healthy, said “the other 5 percent will come when I actually play out there” and admitted to being even more nervous than he was for his Duke debut back in November.

His return has all but overshadowed a second-round matchup that figures to be one-sided.

Duke enters as a 23-point favorite over Hampton (24-8), which won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament in Winston-Salem five days ago and is in the round of 64 for the first time since 2002.

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