Duke may not miss Irving at all? Blasphemy!

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Ever since Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted Wednesday night that Kyrie Irving’s toe injury could end the freshman’s season, anyone who writes or thinks about college basketball’s been trying to decide how much it’ll hurt the Devils.

The consensus? More than a little, not a crippling amount.

How’s that for exact?

One post estimated that it’ll be around 3 points for every 100 possessions. Perhaps that doesn’t seem like a lot given Duke’s already impressive offensive efficiency, but it’s important when it matters most – March. Against teams like Kansas, Ohio State or Pitt, three points will be huge.

But it may not be three points. It may actually be less. David Hess from The Audacity of Hoops looked at data from Duke’s +/- stats and found a surprising result:

Take a look at the totals at the bottom: no matter how you slice it (remove blowouts, remove cupcakes, exclude the last game that he missed entirely), the Blue Devils have a higher Net/40 margin when Irving is out of the game.

Now, I originally did this because I thought it might show that Irving hurts them on defense, but we actually see that teams score at a higher rate when he sits. However, I believe that’s largely due to a higher pace. Looking at the offensive numbers, the difference between 84 and 96 pts/40 is almost surely not entirely due to increased efficiency; there must be some tempo increase there. And if the tempo is faster, it’s pretty hard to say whether any of the increase in opponent scoring is due to worse defense. Either way, it’s outweighed by the increase in Duke’s scoring, and the Devils end up with a better scoring margin when Irving sits.

Are the Devils better without Irving? It’s hard to believe, no matter what evidence is presented. My eyes tell me Irving’s been fantastic this season. And dammit, I want to believe what I’ve seen!

Still, it’s not that hard to swallow. Duke’s not exactly hurting for talent. Without Irving, Nolan Smith’s likely to be running the point. That’s when Smith’s scoring tends to drops, but he does excel at finding Andre Dawkins, Duke’s most efficient scorer. (Always good to kick it to a guy who shoots 53 percent from beyond the arc.)

Will they miss Irving? Yeah. But we’ll wait and see how much.

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