Duke point guard Kyrie Irving might return in time for the NCAA Tournament now. Duke plays Hampton on Friday, and Irving appears ready to step back into the active roster for the team. It’s been a long absence for Irving, who was considered to be the best player on the team when he went down with an injury during a Dec. 4 game against Butler. Duke has had to play almost the entire season without him, but now the prospect of his return has been met with mixed reactions from some college basketball analysts who are worried about how team chemistry would look.
It would seem like a return against Hampton would be the best way to get him back into the flow of things, and that added talent to the active roster could only serve to help the chances of Duke returning to yet another Final Four. Duke went 8-0 with Irving in the lineup, but finished the season 30-4 with an ACC Championship after he got hurt.
During that time, Irving had a hard cast on his foot to keep his injured toe immobilized, so it stands to reason that he might be a tad rusty coming back at this point. That doesn’t mean he won’t be able to shake it off and get back into game shape in a matter of days.
Irving is going to be selected high in the 2011 NBA Draft if he decides to put his name out there; that is the type of talent we are talking about. In his eight games early in the season, Irving ended up averaging 17.4 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. He did this in just less than 29 minutes per game, and Irving was shooting quite well from the field. His overall field goal percentage was 53 percent, with a 90 percent clip from the line, and 45 percent from the free throw line. In one game against Michigan State on Dec. 1, Irving went for 31 points on just 8-12 shooting on the way to a Duke 84-79 win. He was going to be in that discussion for Player of the Year, and should be welcomed back.
According to ESPN, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski still isn’t sure if Irving can make it back for the game against Hampton, but it certainly seems like he could get back into the lineup slowly with a return. Duke is heavily favored to beat Hampton, meaning this could be a one-sided game that gives a lot of time to the reserves. That is the perfect opportunity to get Irving a high number of minutes without forcing him into a “crunch-time” situation with the game on the line. That would allow Irving to work his way back into the fold, and potentially be even more ready for the Sunday opponent Duke would face in Charlotte.