Until Irving returns for Duke, pressure’s on Smith

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Who knew a toe could cause so much trouble?

Duke point guard Kyrie Irving missed the first of what could many games – if not the entire season – Wednesday night when the Devils handled Bradley at home, 83-48. Nothing wrong with a 35-point victory right?

Not so much. Duke already misses its lightning quick guard, who is tops among all freshmen in scoring (17.4 ppg) and is in the Top 10 in six ACC statistical categories. Plus, the Devils’ offense just doesn’t flow as smoothly without Irving, who thrives at attacking defenders off the dribble and setting up his teammates for easy buckets.

“It was slower,” senior guard Nolan Smith said after beating Bradley. “Kyrie does a good job of helping us get more points, because he always has defenses on their toes.”

An Irving tweet Thursday morning – “Situation not looking good and I’m not feeling good …smh worst thing ever” – was feverishly re-tweed by the guard’s 14,963 followers and set the tone for what’s sure to be a tense few weeks among Duke followers.

There’s no timetable for Irving’s return. Duke’s not only using its top-flight medical center to assess what can be done to fix the ligament damage in the toe, but also flying in doctors from around the country. No messing around here, not with a repeat on the line.

“It’s a serious injury,” coach Mike Krzyewski said afterward. “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.”

So where does Duke go from here?

That’s the question raised by Brett Freidlander of ACC Insider. His excellent rundown of what Duke did poorly against Bradley (running the halfcourt offense) notes that it’ll raise the stakes for Smith, who’ll likely assume the brunt of Irving’s role. (Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry will get their time, but neither are well-suited to running an offense.)

Most of all, it means Coach K has to change. He spent the summer preparing an offense that revolved around Irving’s abilities.

“Everybody’s game changes, including mine,” Krzyzewski told Freidlander. “It doesn’t mean a wholesale change in what you’re doing, but it changes everything including the habits of having played with that great player for the entire preseason and eight games. There’s just a period of adjustment our team will have to go through.”

Now Duke may play a little slower, shoot a few more 3-pointers (may as well use Curry and Dawkins) and hope Smith fares better at point than he did as a sophomore. He’s a far better player since then, but hasn’t had to run the offense is long stretches since Jon Scheyer assumed those duties late in the 2008-09 season and all of last season.

Don’t feel too badly for the Devils, though. Their schedule is filled with cupcakes until ACC play begins in January. They’ve got time to adjust.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller.