Blue Devils Kyrie Irving Out: How Can Duke Win Without Star Point Guard?

Mike KlineAnalyst IDecember 14, 2010

Duke is regrouping and adjusting to the possibility of life without Kyrie Irving.
Duke is regrouping and adjusting to the possibility of life without Kyrie Irving.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Those who have questioned how Kyrie Irving's injury affects the Duke Blue Devils are projecting struggles on the horizon for the defending National Champs.

Those struggles may already be over.

Duke has played two games since Irving suffered apparent ligament damage to his big toe in the second half of the rematch with Butler and both were blowouts.

Granted, neither Bradley nor St. Louis were going to give the Blue Devils much of a challenge, but the team is clearly moving in the right direction without their stellar freshman point guard.

They struggled initially without Irving in the first game against Bradley.

With Irving running the offense, Duke planned to run and gun this season. Irving's lightning quick first step and knack for getting to the basket or creating opportunities for himself or his teammates in transition was the focal point of the Blue Devils offensive attack.

He also was the top on ball defender, utilizing his quickness to disrupt the opponents top play maker.

Without Irving, Duke is slower but not all that much.

Senior Nolan Smith has moved over to the point guard role, and while Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis has noted his struggles two years ago, Smith isn't the same player.

Davis said Smith struggled at point guard as a sophomore and thus could be expected to struggle now as a senior.

That is some shaky logic, but understandable.

So far Smith has answered the bell and while his scoring output dropped to only two points against Bradley, only one game later he was scoring 21 points while still efficiently running the offense.

Clearly Duke will be a different team but those who feel like they can't adapt are greatly underestimating Mike Krzyzewski who is a master at adaption.

Many, including ESPN's Jimmy Dykes, have said Duke will struggle because the spent all summer and preseason developing the offense around Irving's abilities.

They forget that in 2001 after most of the season, and the summer before, Duke had planned and been playing with Carlos Boozer as the primary interior weapon.

When Boozer went down in the next to last regular season game with a broken foot all but a few wrote Duke off.

Krzyzewski responded by developing a plan for a center by committee rotation that helped Duke win the ACC Tournament and a couple NCAA Tournament games before Boozer rejoined the team for the push to the Final Four and eventual National Championship.

Not to say the same will happen in 2010-11, but compare eight games to the more than 20 Boozer had played in and decide for yourself who should have been impacted more.

Duke still has Kyle Singler and Smith, two All-American candidates. They are supported by solid scorers in Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry.

Anybody who has ever watched a Duke team knows that if the Blue Devils have shooters, and they have a lot, they are dangerous.

Mason Plumlee has developed into a serious post threat both offensively and defensively, and that simply can't be overlooked. He is supported by his brother Miles and fellow sophomore Ryan Kelly whose versatility is making him a commodity.

This is still a potent Duke team even without Irving. They are just slower, though probably faster than 90 percent of the teams in the country.

Don't expect as much run and gun, but don't expect the same slow deliberate half-court style they ran last year all the time either.

Expect to see freshman back up point guard Tyler Thornton get more minutes to spell Smith and Curry. Don't expect him to start, but he is a good defender and he won't make bad decisions that cost Duke on offense.

He will probably be good for anywhere between five and 10 minutes in a given game.

Expect Duke to continue to play strong man to man defense and expect them to continue to put pressure on the ball.

The bottom line is Krzyzewski has plenty of time to formulate a plan. And as long as his team can shoot and play defense they will win games.

This week is exam week at Duke and while his players are hitting the books, Krzyzewski is watching film and making a plan that will have the Blue Devils contenders until the very end.

They might not be the odds on favorite anymore, and it certainly won't be easy, but they are still a team that can cut the nets down and at the very least have a very good season.