A Wild Ten Game Start

The Blue Devils have a perfect start to 2010-2011, aside from the injury bug biting.

The Blue Devils have been one of the country's best teams during the first month of the season. They expect to be atop the Atlantic Coast Conference as well, though they might be going through a transition when they hit the league schedule.

Point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been a primary catalyst for the Blue Devils, faces an uncertain future with a toe injury that's described as serious. He has been the fuel behind the team's up-tempo approach.

The Blue Devils say they'll continue to stress a fast pace with lots of possessions, but it might take on a different form.

"Without Kyrie on the court, we're a different team," forward Kyle Singler said. "The stuff that we're doing now, we're just going to have to keep repping it in practice and get more comfortable and familiar with it."

The Blue Devils held what could be described as a two-point guard approach with Irving and Nolan Smith. But if Irving isn't available that puts more responsibility on Smith.

"Nolan has got to play more on the ball," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Basically, we played with two point guards, which is a very difficult offense to defend. ... You always had a fresh guy on the ball and you usually had a fresh guy dribbling the ball. Now we have to figure that out."

Irving is Duke's leading scorer at 17.4 points per game, but Smith and Singler, who began the season as a preseason Player of the Year candidate nationally, are capable of putting up big offensive numbers.

So while the Blue Devils won't overhaul their philosophy, if Irving can't play when conference games begin, some of the scouting report on them from the first month will go by the wayside.

"When a great player gets hurt and can't play, it changes everything," Krzyzewski said. "Everybody's game changes, including mine."

--Duke reached a 10-0 mark for the 13th time in coach Mike Krzyzewski's 31 seasons with the Blue Devils. That gave him 788 career victories through Dec. 11, one away from legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith. He can tie the record at home Dec. 20 against Elon, then would be in line to break Smith's ACC record in a Dec. 29 game against UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum. The benefit of Krzyzewski eclipsing Smith's ACC record prior to January, aside from maintaining the team's undefeated record, is that discussion of this topic will be in the past when conference games begin.

--The Blue Devils will enter January in a stretch on the schedule when they don't leave the state of North Carolina in a seven-game span. Their first two ACC games come at home against Miami and Maryland. This will mark the fifth year in a row that Duke's first January conference game has come at home, and they've won the past three of those assignments.

PLAYER TO WATCH: G Nolan Smith wiped away questions about how he might perform without G Kyrie Irving, who's out with a toe injury, in his second game without his backcourt mate. Smith went 0-for-8 from the field in the first game with Irving sidelined, but he responded in the next game against St. Louis with 22 points on 8-for-13 shooting (including 7 of 9 in the first half). Smith will have more ball-handling responsibilities without Irving, but he shared that role in the past with Jon Scheyer and so he's capable of dealing with that responsibility.

KEY CONFERENCE GAME: Jan. 2 vs. Miami -- This is Duke's ACC opener and it's also the Blue Devils' first major-conference opponent in a month. If they're without G Kyrie Irving (injured toe), this will be the first significant test to see how the Blue Devils respond. Miami finished last in the league last year, but gave Duke a tussle in the ACC Tournament.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm not sure if it has worn us down yet. Even though they are kind of strung together, I think Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) does a great job of keeping each one of them fresh." -- F Kyle Singler on a string of big-time games that established the Blue Devils as one of the country's top teams.


2009-10 CONFERENCE RECORD: 13-3, first place (tie)

LINEUP BREAKDOWN: The Blue Devils have a luxury with seniors F Kyle Singler and G Nolan Smith, and they figure to be rarely off the court during conference games. They'll have to be ironmen when it comes to minutes played.

There's some inconsistency in the interior, but there's also enough depth with C Miles Plumlee, F Mason Plumlee and F Ryan Kelly so that major dips should be avoided. Kelly provides more of a threat on the perimeter than the Plumlee brothers, who are counted on stability on defense if nothing else.

With G Kyrie Irving's toe injury, this opens more playing time for G Andre Dawkins and G Seth Curry. There's also the possibility that F Josh Hairston, a freshman, could factor in as he develops.

--G Kyrie Irving went into a hard cast on his right foot Dec. 10, leading most observers to figure that his absence from the lineup due to a toe injury could be a long-term situation.

--F Mason Plumlee had back-to-back games with a total of five points against Bradley and St. Louis, marking an alarming reduction in production. He played only 11 minutes against St. Louis, when other forwards showed better efficiency. He finished with a season-low two rebounds.

--G Andre Dawkins made his first collegiate start a memorable one when he scored 28 points against Bradley. His 3-point shooting should cause some defenses top spread out and it might loosen the lane for the Blue Devils. "It doesn't surprise me when I hit shots," Dawkins said.

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