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NCAA Basketball Tournament 2011 Predictions: Kyrie Irving's Status Changes Final Four, Boosts Duke

On Tuesday, just two days before the real NCAA Tournament, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski dropped a bomb: Kyrie Irving might make an appearance in March Madness. There’s no might about this: Irving will play, and he’ll probably do it as soon as the Blue Devils second round matchup against Hampton. If Irving is able to play, and make it all the way through the NCAA Tournament, NCAA Tournament predictions should be adjusted accordingly.

Earlier, I picked Texas to knock off Duke in the West region and had San Diego State making the Final Four. If Irving is healthy — and all indications point to him being cleared by the doctors — Duke becomes the prohibitive favorite in the West region. Go ahead and pencil them into the Final Four.

From there, it’s time to take a second look at the Final Four. On Tuesday, I made these predictions. With the news about Irving’s status, it’s worthwhile to revisit the Final Four and adjust accordingly.

Final Four
Kansas over Pittsburgh. This one stays the same. Irving is good, but he’s not good enough to change other games.
Duke over Ohio State. The Blue Devils and Buckeyes are already neck-and-neck with Irving. With him, Duke gets the edge.

National Championship
Duke over Kansas. And with that, the results change dramatically. Irving’s return makes Duke the NCAA Tournament favorite.

There is one caveat: Irving will have to whip himself into game shape over the next two weeks. It shouldn’t matter much in the Blue Devils’ first two games, but in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight, Irving will have to boost his minutes and production. If he’s able to do that, Duke is in great shape in the NCAA Tournament.

For more on the bracket predictions, check out the rest of our NCAA Tournament predictions StoryStream. Grab a printable bracket and get to work filling out your own while you’re at it.