Kyrie Irving zipped down the floor toward an empty frontcourt and fired a pass to a teammate for an easy basket.
Even during a simple drill with the reserves, the electrifying point guard once again had Duke off and running.
Now the Blue Devils will find out how well he’ll have them rolling in a game – and on college basketball’s biggest stage, no less.
No. 1 seed Duke’s NCAA tournament opener against No. 16 seed Hampton in the West Regional in Charlotte, N.C., today will mark Irving’s return to the court. The flashy freshman has been out since Dec. 4 with an injured big toe on his right foot, and coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to bring him off the bench and play him limited minutes.
“He hasn’t played in a long, long time, but he’s the type (of) player, you give him the ball, he’s going to get out there and he’ll help us if he gets on the court,” guard Nolan Smith said. “He’s that good a player.”
With Irving’s return, the reigning national champions are reintroducing another elite talent to a rotation that already includes the most outstanding player of last year’s Final Four, Kyle Singler, and Smith, the Atlantic Coast Conference’s player of the year.
“We want to play the way we’ve been playing and integrate him into what we’re doing,” Krzyzewski said.
Still, Duke clearly doesn’t want to expect too much too soon from Irving. At the time of his injury, Irving had Duke at 8-0 and was averaging a then-team-best 17.4 points while orchestrating the team’s uptempo attack.
Irving admits his current conditioning isn’t where he wants it, but he says he’s able to do nearly everything he could before he was hurt. He pronounced himself 95 percent healthy, said “the other 5 percent will come when I actually play out there” and admitted to being even more nervous than he was for his Duke debut back in November.
“It’s even more nerve-racking, just the amount of pressure on Duke and just the aura of the NCAA tournament,” Irving said. “This is a special occasion for me, and I just want to enjoy it with my teammates.”
Purdue suspends Barlow
Purdue coach Matt Painter didn’t hesitate. Sophomore guard Kelsey Barlow’s “pattern of behavior” had to stop. Long-term benefits outweighed short-term consequences.
So the Purdue coach suspended his top reserve and most versatile defender for the rest of the season, starting with tonight’s NCAA tourney opener against Saint Peter’s at the United Center in Chicago. The official reason is conduct detrimental to the team.
“There are two things you look at – let’s do what’s best for the team and do what’s best for the individual,” Painter said. “I try to be fair with guys and help them through things, but when it gets to be a pattern of behavior, you do what’s best for the team. I felt it was best for our team and for our seniors as we move forward.”
Arizona’s Fogg healthy
Arizona assists leader Kyle Fogg hopes to be healthy again for the Wildcats’ NCAA tournament opener today in Tulsa, Okla., after being limited by a left quadriceps strain during the Pac-10 tournament.
Fogg said Thursday he’s “feeling really good right now” and “should be at 90 or 100 percent” when the fifth-seeded Wildcats (27-7) play Memphis (25-9).
Fogg is Arizona’s third-leading scorer with 8.3 points per game and has started 30 of the team’s 34 games this season.
Wright returns for G’town
After four days of practice, Georgetown point guard Chris Wright is ready for a game.
Wright hasn’t played since breaking his left hand Feb. 23 against Cincinnati, and the sixth-seeded Hoyas lost four straight without him. But he was cleared to play and said he’d gone through full-contact practices all week to get ready for tonight’s game against 11th-seeded VCU in Chicago.
Wright leads the Hoyas (21-10) in assists and is their second-leading scorer at 13.1 points per game.