Can he be a factor?
Doesn't take long for the vultures to start circling, does it?
The news of Duke's death, is, however, entirely premature.
In this day and age of parity, or at least perceived parity, an undefeated season would be a truly remarkable feat. Four teams keep that dream alive, at least for now. As the Duke Blue Devils may find out, now isn't necessarily a bad time to lose one.
With the loss of Kyrie Irving, Duke looks similar to last year's team in terms of style of play. And while they may have a few more perimeter options, the interior needs to contribute consistently at both ends of the floor. In their four conference games, the Duke bigs have been invisible.
Still, it's hard to say there are teams that are better. Kansas is unbeaten, having throttled Iowa State by five and destroying Nebraska by three. San Diego State has been impressive, winning 19 in a row to date. Syracuse looks strong as well, with a date with once-beaten Pitt looming.
Everyone is going to lose at some point. It's the rebound that counts.
Just for fun though, here is a short list of some teams that could give the Dukies some trouble.
I know that everyone is sold on Ohio State and they have passed some tests as the mid-point of the season passes, but the toughest part of their season is about to begin.
The reason(s) that the Buckeye could beat Duke are seen in the photo. Only sharpshooter Jon Diebler is missing from Thad Matta's Fab Five.
Balance is the key to the Buckeyes. They can play inside-out or outside-in because of the versatility of their veteran lineup.
Jared Sullinger, William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler and reserve Deshaun Thomas all average over ten points per game. Aaron Craft, who gets starters' minutes is becoming a solid point man with a good assist to turnover ratio.
The inside game with Sullinger wold pose the most difficulty for the Devils. They might be able to shut him down to a degree but the attention he will receive will give opportunities for Lighty and Buford to slash and for Dielber to deal from three-point range.
Defensively, the Buckeyes match up well against most teams as they have good size and length throughout their lineup. Dallas Lauderdale, who starts and plays around 20 minutes per game is an underrated defender and shot-blocker in the post.
You can't shut Smith and Singler down completely, but Duke would struggle winning the battle in the paint.
The Panthers have a veteran, physical team that rebounds and defends with tenacity. That has been their mantra since the days of Ben Howland.
This season their offence has been much more diverse, as they have developed more options and are willing to play at faster pace.
Ashton Gibbs is one of the top guards in the Big East, clearly the best conference to date. Gilbert Brown is a veteran who can shoot, drive and defend. Gary McGhee is steady if unspectacular in the middle and has improved immensely over the course of his career at Pitt.
Finally, there is the leadership of Brad Wanamaker and the bench contributions of Travon Woodall, Nasir Robinson and Dante Taylor, all of whom average around seven points per game.
They don't have a top-notch post player, but they have enough weapons to provide post challenges to any team. They average 16 offensive rebounds per game. And, they are physical, one of the ingredients the Seminoles used in their upset of Duke.
Other than a dud against Tennessee, the Panthers have been impressive and could very easily belong in the discussion for Final Four contenders.
Forget the suit, this dude knows what he's doing.
The Badgers rarely have the top talent, never land the big recruits and somehow, they are always a force in the Big Ten.
One stipulation here—the game has to be in Madison. They just don't lose there. There are no other statistics needed.
I'm not sure why, but I'm still reluctant about this team.
However, their zone defense this season has been suffocating, and after witnessing the failed three-point barrage by Duke against Florida State, Syracuse could potentially shut down the perimeter players in much the same way. Teams are shooting 28 percent from beyond the arc against the 'Cuse, ninth lowest in the country.
Their offense has been a little inconsistent, but with the opportunities they get from their defense, they can score in a hurry in transition.
Their inside game continues to improve as Rick Jackson consistently makes his case for the all-conference team.
Duke's inside game hasn't approached anything close to consistency thus far.
I hear the snickers already, but there is some logic here.
Aside from their inexplicable showing at USC, Texas is a hair away from being 16-1, having lost in overtime by one to UConn and by two to Pittsburgh.
They have a good mix of experience and youth, some solid role players, and some stars in the making.
Plus, they are relentless on the glass. Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson all average over seven rebounds per game. All can score, play defense and, especially the big man Thompson, can run the floor. They are also sixth in the nation defensively, in assist-to-turnover ratio, so they will turn you over.
This team is much better than last year's Longhorns simply because they play together. They have enough weapons to counter the Blue Devils' own.
This team is still a work in progress, but are starting to show some signs of life, specifically in the second half of their win against Virginia Tech.
The Heels are a very good rebounding team—first in their conference in defensive rebounds per game and second in offensive rebounds. Their big men, Tyler Zeller and John Henson, are starting to have an impact at both ends.
Harrison Barnes will not be an All-American this season, sorry to say. He will be an important player if Carolina hopes to stay near the top of the ACC. He has the talent to become one of the best wings in the ACC and be a potential match-up nightmare for anyone.
The main reason that the Heels could give Duke a run is simply the rivalry. The disparity in talent is minimal (Irving obviously tips the scale) this year and while Duke holds the obvious edge in experience, sometimes, for one game, that doesn't matter.
North Carolina will have two chances to prove that they are back, or at least well on their way.
Yes, they have already played. No, Butler is not the team it was last season.
But the Blue Devils don't win that first game without Kyrie Irving. His two late threes kept the Bulldogs at bay and Duke pulled away late.
Without Irving maybe it's a different story. Maybe it isn't. Maybe Nolan Smith steps up and hits those shots, who knows. But despite some inconsistency this season, we know Butler can compete with anybody.
Duke has become a similar team to last year's group, without the grit that Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas provided. And that is a team that could be concerned with a team like Butler.
BYU and San Diego State are about a week away from squaring off for the first time this season in the Mountain West, a game that could very well signal the end to the nation's longest winning streak.
The Cougars are good. Maybe only as far as Jimmer Fredette can carry them, but so far he seems to have broad shoulders.
Other than Fredette, they have no stars. They do have an excellent supporting cast of players who understand their respective roles. Jackson Emery recently broke Danny Ainge's school record for steals and is an excellent three-point shooter.
Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock are solid big men who contribute scoring and rebounding, while Chris and Kyle Collinsworth provide some athleticism in the frontcourt as well.
The Cougars protect the ball, averaging slightly under 11 turnovers per game and are 20th in the nation with a 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.
This team reminds me of one four years ago. One that had exceptional role players and one star. Davidson, anyone?
Including the Jayhawks right now is honestly more out of a sense of obligation than belief that they could beat Duke.
They do have the inside game and talent to give Duke's front line some serious grief. The Morris twins (they probably get really tired of that moniker) and Thomas Robinson are carrying this team right now, as coach Bill Self tries to find some consistent guard play and avoid any further strokes on the sideline.
When Josh Selby has ten games under his belt, we could see what the Jayhawks will be about come March. Right now, they have a tenuous hold on their unbeaten record.
Again, though in a one-game showdown, anything goes, and Kansas can be as good as anyone.
After watching them implode against Villanova on Saturday, this could be the most unlikely team to beat Duke.
However, they did play them tough at Cameron and they do have a history of winning at home against Duke.
Jordan Williams is an absolute monster down low and should be getting some consideration for the All-American squad. Not only do the Blue Devils' bigs have trouble with him, but every other team does as well.
More than any statistic, and similar to North Carolina, Maryland's most important home game every year is with Duke. And more than statistics and numbers, this is why they have a chance.