A flutter of excitement pulsed through early arriving Duke fans on Friday evening when the Blue Devils began warming up for their ACC quarterfinal against Maryland just over an hour before tipoff.
Among the players on the court during shootaround was none other than point guard Kyrie Irving, clad in Duke basketball shorts and a sleeveless workout shirt no less.
Duke spokesman Matt Plizga informed reporters that Irving would not be in uniform on Friday and the point guard himself told WTVD's Mark Armstrong he would not return this weekend, yet his presence alone was attention-grabbing. It again raised the hopes of Duke fans that Irving might be able to return from his right big toe injury in time to play in the NCAA tournament next week.
The status of Irving is one of the most important yet mysterious storylines in college basketball as Selection Sunday approaches. It seems as though Duke would likely have a timetable for Irving's return by now, yet the Blue Devils continue to keep eager fans and media in the dark as to the status of the future lottery pick.
If Irving were able to return at anywhere near the All-American form he flashed in November, it would certainly enhance Duke's hopes of cutting down the nets at the Final Four for the second straight year. A healthy Irving remains the difference between Duke entering the NCAA tournament as co-favorites with Ohio State instead of merely one of a half dozen top contenders.
Hopefully, the presence of Irving in warmups will inspire Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski to provide a clearer picture of the freshman's chances of playing in the NCAA tournament. If the past few months are any indication, however, we shouldn't count on it.