Could Kyrie Irving play? Should he?

March, 16, 2011
3/16/11
10:07
AM ET
Did you give up on Kyrie Irving? I did.

It's not just that Irving suffered a freak toe injury -- evil turf toe, basically -- that derailed his previously brilliant freshman season and kept him out of Duke's lineup since Dec. 4. It's that Duke has been so careful with Irving, so unwilling to rush him back on the floor before he was ready, that it seemed like coach Mike Krzyzewski had essentially decided that Irving's late-season return wasn't worth jeopardizing his rather bright future. (Irving could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft in June.)

Throw in Duke's success since Irving's injury -- they're still a No. 1 seed, after all -- and the lack of notable updates on Irving's condition, and, well, yeah, Irving seemed done. Why take the risk, right?

[+] EnlargeDuke's Kyrie Irving
AP Photo/Sara D. DavisDuke guard Kryie Irving hasn't been in the Blue Devils line-up since Dec. 4. Could he be back for the NCAA tournament?
Then ... Tuesday happened. On Tuesday, Coach K told reporters that "there is a chance" Irving could play in Friday's first-round game versus Hampton. True story.

Now no one knows what to think. Which might be just the way Coach K likes it.

The pertinent details from the Associated Press:
Injured Duke point guard Kyrie Irving could return for the Blue Devils' NCAA tournament opener, coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday night. Krzyzewski said Irving practiced "a little bit" with the team Tuesday, but he won't know for a few days whether the freshman will be available for the top-seeded Blue Devils' West Regional opener against 16th-seeded Hampton on Friday in Charlotte.

"There is a chance that he would play," Krzyzewski said.

The coach added that if Irving does come back, he won't start, would see only limited minutes and wouldn't be on the court for extended periods of time.

"You don't want to get where he gets hurt and hurts something else because you extend him past" his limits, Krzyzewski said. [...] "I'm going day by day, because I never expected him to be where he's at today," Krzyzewski said. "This is like uncharted waters."


The good news: You still have all day to adjust your bracket accordingly.

The bad news: Should you really adjust your bracket? How? Why? The answer to all three questions can only be "I don't know," because like Coach K said, these waters are uncharted. (Coach K is a simile guy. I prefer metaphor. Hey, to each his own.)

The reason your bracket situation might remain unchanged is the same reason this might be a risky proposition for Duke. After all, Irving hasn't played in a live game for three months. His only repetitions have come in light practice format. He took shots and ran drills during the ACC tournament, but he didn't dress for any of the Blue Devils' games. Putting aside the potential risk of further injury, can Duke really expect Irving to be ready, to not just contribute, but star for a team that has played so well without him?

It's a huge risk-reward proposition: With a healthy Irving in the lineup, the Blue Devils are probably the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. But if Irving gets hurt, or even if he throws a bit of a wrench into Coach K's well-oiled machine, the Blue Devils could very well underperform their already-high tournament expectations. It's hard to add players to your lineup at this stage of the season. It's hard to find time to practice in the NCAA tournament. And with the exception of Duke's first-round game versus the No. 16-seeded Hampton Pirates, there is no time to feel out where Irving stands, how the team will adjust, and whether it's a good idea to bring him back after all. After all, it's March Madness: As every coach in the country knows, all it takes is one haphazard game to end your season for good.

The one fearsome scenario I can think of is Irving as a backup point guard. Imagine that. Coach K could roll with his usual lineup but bring in Irving in spot situations for Nolan Smith. Even if Irving can't go 30 minutes, and merely takes Tyler Thornton's nine minutes per game, he could be some sort of super sixth man -- a secret weapon off the bench for which there is no answer.

I'll be honest: The first thing I thought when I heard the news Tuesday night was that Coach K was just messing with people, and I mean that as a compliment. The Hampton tilt (if you can call it that) won't require much gamesmanship, of course. But perhaps Krzyzewski saw the Irving dynamic as a chance to give potential second-round opponents Michigan and Tennessee something to think about. Maybe he wants Rick Barnes -- whose Longhorns would meet Duke in the Sweet 16 if seeds hold -- to fret about how his team will adjust to guarding Irving. The ability to hold a player as talented as Irving over opponents' heads is a rare one, and Coach K wouldn't be Coach K if he wasn't brilliant at utilizing every possible advantage. With Irving in game clothes, opposing coaches now have two game plans to prepare: one for the Duke of November, and one for the Duke we've seen ever since.

Of course, I might be reading too much into it. We'll find out Friday. In the meantime, though, good luck with your bracket. Are you more confident in Duke now? Or less so? And why? (If the phone call I received late Tuesday night from my Duke-picking friend was any indication, those with Duke in their brackets are quite excited. But should they be? Couldn't this be just as much of a risk to Duke's hopes, too?)

The answers are all: I don't know. But if any coach can make this situation work -- or at least use it to his advantage in the next three weeks -- it's Coach K. In other words, stay tuned.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

You must be signed in to post a comment

Already have an account?