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Irving already playing like a veteran
Kyrie Irving was sensational, scoring in every way imaginable – making shots from deep, slicing through defenders and attacking en route to 16 free throws attempts.
"He’s not a freshman," Duke senior Nolan Smith said of his backcourt mate. "He plays like a veteran."
But the kid who is just seven games into his college career won’t just be the talk on Tobacco Road. He’ll be the topic of the nation now – just as John Wall was a year ago at Kentucky.
However, what is certain to get lost in the Irving Hype Machine is that Duke barely staved off No. 6 Michigan State, 84-79, on its home court – a place where the Blue Devils haven’t fallen short in a non-conference contest since Feb. 26, 2000.
"People were saying that Duke can’t be beaten," Michigan State senior point guard Kalin Lucas said. "But if we had played a little better and limited our turnovers, we win the game.”
Twenty Spartan turnovers that led to 28 Duke points.
"Yeah, of course they are beatable,” Michigan State’s leader Draymond Green added following the loss. "They are a great team, but we want to see them again – and the next time it’ll be on a neutral court.”
There’s no disputing the mammoth effort of Irving, who in the seventh game of his career nearly broke J.J. Redick’s freshman scoring record of 34 points.
He’s just arguably the best point guard in the country, but maybe even the top player in the nation.
Former Duke star guard Jay Williams, who was the National Player of the Year in 2002, admits that the current Blue Devils floor leader is well ahead of the curve.
"He’s definitely further along than I was at the same stage,” Williams said after watching Irving dissect Michigan State’s defense. "He’s a PG (point guard) – and his basketball IQ is at a different level.”
Irving dominated any head-to-head matchup that some felt would materialize between he and Lucas.
But in his defense, the speedy Lucas isn’t at 100 percent.
Eight months after rupturing his Achilles and with just seven games under his belt, Lucas wore down after 36 minutes on Wednesday night at Cameron Indoor Stadium. He was tentative in the first half and still didn’t show the burst that made him one of the most effective point guards in the country prior to the injury last season.
"Kalin’s not there yet,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after the game.
"I’m not myself yet,” Lucas admitted. "It’s still going to take some time.”
That’s not an excuse. That’s reality.
However, even when Lucas does get back to 100 percent, he’ll have his hands full with Irving.
However, even with Irving, this Blue Devils team is vulnerable.
They struggled against Marquette in Kansas City a little more than a week ago one night before appearing virtually unbeatable against a highly regarded Kansas State team.
Then they were unable to put away Michigan State.
There are weaknesses:
Size and bulk down low.
This team isn’t running any table despite the fact the Blue Devils appear to have effectively hurdled their two most daunting tasks all season long: the road game against Kansas State in K.C. and now the one at home against a Michigan State team that entered the season ranked No. 2.
This team has a Big Three that’s unrivaled these days, but the question now is whether the two veterans can remain content with the fact that Irving has not just joined the duo – but may have already surpassed them.
Singler and Smith both maintain there is no jealousy with the new kid coming in and stealing the limelight, but Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and the rest of the staff will have to guard against human nature – which means his two seniors worrying about getting theirs and how it directly correlates to their NBA stock.
"That’s what happened to Kentucky and what hurt those guys last year,” Singler said. "Thinking about the NBA. I don’t think that will be a problem for us. We understand that any of us – Kyrie, Nolan or me – can go for 30 points in a game.”
"Kyle and I have both proven ourselves,” Smith said. "We’ve won and we’ve shown we can score. It’s all about us leading and winning.”
Duke has won – seven straight games to begin the season – and now everyone is talking how Irving looks the part of an All-American, maybe even the National Player of the Year and the No. 1 overall pick in June’s NBA Draft.
What needs to be said is that this Duke team still has some work to do.
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