Kyrie Irving’s injury won’t slow Duke

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Kyrie Irving injured his toe near the end of Duke’s 82-70 win over Butler on Saturday. At first there was some optimism that Irving would be able to suit up for Wednesday’s matchup with Bradley at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Now, however, it appears that Irving’s injury is more serious than originally anticipated:

“Kyrie’s injury is a serious one,” Krzyzewski said after the game. “It’s being evaluated by our medical team here at Duke and with medical people from different parts of the country who are experts in foot injuries. Some type of analysis should be done hopefully by a week to 10 days and a course of action will be taken based on that analysis.

“It’s a serious injury. I can’t say anything more because we are learning information but it is serious and whatever final decision is made will obviously what’s in his best interest and his career. Not to save him for any period of time or whatever, but he could be out for a long time.”

This is where Duke fans get nervous. When Coach K was asked whether or not Irving could be out the rest of the season, he responded: “He could be, he could be.”

According to FOXSports.com’s Jeff Goodman, Irving could be on the shelf for 3-4 weeks, and possibly longer than that. Irving, who is currently in a walking boot, has gone to see multiple foot specialists about the injury. One of them recommended surgery. Andy Katz of ESPN.com is reporting that the toe isn’t broken, but the ligament damage makes it difficult to determine a timetable. Duke doesn’t want to rush him back and risk permanent damage.

The good news for Duke is that the injury occurred after the brunt of their early season schedule. The Blue Devil’s next three games — St. Louis, and Elon at home before a Dec. 29th trip to UNC-Greensboro — are all easily winnable without Irving in the lineup. ACC play doesn’t kick off until Jan. 2nd and the Blue Devils don’t get their first real test until Maryland comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium. They don’t go on the road until a January 12th trip to Florida State.

That gives Irving about a month to be on the mend. If Irving’s injury takes the expected 3-4 weeks to heal, he should be back in uniform by the time ACC play begins.

In his absence, expect Nolan Smith to slide over to the point and Andre Dawkins to start as the off-guard. Seth Curry should also be expected to see some minutes at the point. In the long run, this may actually be a blessing in disguise. Assuming Irving comes back from the injury at 100%, Smith and, more importantly, Curry will have had experience running this team. Foul trouble and sprained ankles can happen at any time. This gives Coach K a safety net should Irving be forced to miss time later in the season in more critical games.

Or if Irving should miss the rest of the season.

If that is, in fact, the case, it will obviously be a huge blow to the Blue Devils. Irving’s speed with the ball is a huge reason that Duke is able to play a faster pace. Smith and Curry are both quality basketball players — Smith could end up being an all-american — but neither are as dynamic as Irving is making plays. Without their star freshman, Duke’s fast break will be slowed, and in all likelihood they will be forced to rely upon perimeter jumpers more.

The less important, but still very relevant, question that needs to be asked is in regards to the postseason awards. After Irving’s 31 point performance in a win over Michigan State and his 17 point second half as Duke pulled away from Butler, the freshman is on a short list for national player of the year.

Evan Turner proved last season that you can win the award even if you miss some time. He missed six games after fracturing his back and still was named national player of the year.

If Irving comes back healthy and in a timely fashion, there’s no reason he can’t be a first team all-american or the national player of the year if he continues to play at this level.

And if he continues to play at this level when he eventually does return, there is no reason that Duke can’t win a national title.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.