Kyrie Irving is ready to start for Duke and lead it to an NCAA Sweet 16 victory. In Irving’s two games in the NCAA Tournament, he scored 14 points against Hampton and 11 points against Michigan. In the Michigan game, he went 9-of-10 from the line, showing that he once again has the ability to generate points at nearly any moment of the game. If he can do that again in the Sweet 16 game against Arizona, it could give the Blue Devils a real chance to win on Thursday.
According to ESPN, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already committed to playing Irving more minutes in their next game. His exact quote was that Irving would play “significant minutes” and it clearly is a hint that Irving will share a lot of court time with Nolan Smith. That is the best case scenario for the Duke offense, because it will give them two great playmakers on the court at the same time, and could make it very tough on Arizona to defend. That is an interesting duo, and with Irving just about ready to go at full-speed again, Duke will be about as good as they have been at any point during the college basketball season.
Duke fans already know how good Irving is, and he has shown hints of that talent coming off the bench in the first two games of their post-ACC season. He has averaged 20.5 minutes in those games, but could look to see a huge increase in order to counter the offensive threats that Arizona will show off on Thursday. As for the starting rotation though, it seems that Duke is content to keep Irving coming off the bench, even though it might be better for Duke to get him back on the floor at the beginning of games. Duke won their first eight games of the season with Irving starting, and now are 2-0 since he has returned. It doesn’t go unnoticed that they are undefeated when he plays.
Irving is heading toward a first round selection in the NBA Draft, and every game where he can play well within the NCAA Tournament means more money in his pocket in a few months. There is still the chance that Irving could decide to return to Duke for another season, but it is hard to convince a player that talented that they should stay in school for another year. It might hurt his draft prospects if he looks forward to the 2012 NBA Draft, but it could potentially push him to the top of the draft board if he wins a Player of the Year Award in college basketball next year. We all know Duke wants him back, but money has a funny way of speaking to many kids.
Duke is a deeper team with Irving coming off the bench, but will it be enough to stop Derek Williams of Arizona? That’s a very good question that will be answered in around 24 hours.
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