Duke Basketball: Blue Devils Beginning To Click Sans Kyrie Irving

Mike KlineAnalyst IJanuary 28, 2011

Nolan Smith has raised his game up several levels in the absence of Kyrie Irving.
Nolan Smith has raised his game up several levels in the absence of Kyrie Irving.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

If you haven't noticed, Duke is doing pretty well these days without their do-everything freshman point guard Kyrie Irving.

The Blue Devils, who lost their star early in December, were 8-0 with Irving. They are only a pedestrian 11-1 without him.

It took Duke some time to adjust to life without its super frosh, and even when they were winning big it was a fight at times to get there.

Things may be turning the corner for the Blue Devils as they appear to be clicking once again on both ends of the floor.

While Duke is clearly not a finished project and there are some areas of concern that need to be fine tuned, it looks as if the team is starting to figure out how to play without Irving running the show.

It starts with Nolan Smith who has stepped his game up to another level. He has propelled himself into a position to be the ACC player of the year and is still in the discussion for National Player of the Year, though that is less likely.

Smith has become a pure scorer for the Blue Devils. A player that can create his own shot and still manage to create it for othershe leads the ACC in assists with 5.7 per contest.

Kyle Singler while not putting up the National Player of the Year numbers as forecasted, is still having an All-American type season and has brought the kind of senior leadership and toughness Duke needs.

Add improved play from both Miles and Mason Plumlee, Seth Curry finding his shot and the inspiring if not shocking play of Ryan Kelly and things are looking good for Duke.

They are not the same team without Irving, and anyone holding out hope for a return had best focus on the here and now of what this team has to offer.

Much like last year's team they are a work in progress, but they are beginning to gel. After Irving left the team appeared to be sitting on hold just waiting for him.

Now that they know that a return, while possible, is not likely so the team can now focus on playing the style of basketball that works for them.

Against Boston College Thursday night, Duke did a great job of spacing the floor, penetrating and kicking to open shooters and finishing in the lane and near the basket.

Defensively Duke is still able to press three quarters court and half court and have done a better job recently of rotating over to help, though Boston College found a few back doors to attack Duke with early.

Ultimately the Blue Devils are slowly but surely are looking better and better, a fact that detractors and opponents had better heed.

Because while they aren't the same juggernaut without Irving, they are still a very good team at this point and will be a very difficult out come tournament time regardless of what "experts" like Digger Phelps and Doug Gotlieb say.