Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Once thought to be a potential 1-2 matchup between two teams that went to the Elite Eight last season, the game between the Duke Blue Devils and Michigan State Spartans is now not even a showdown between two Top 10 teams.
Really, when you think about it, we’re adding some drama to the situation that isn’t necessary.
Everybody knows that national rankings don’t mean all that much of this time of the year, and no one is going to contend that Duke and Michigan State are not two of the top six or seven teams in the nation. Nonetheless, in our role as “reporters,” we’ve got to talk about where they stand right now in the national picture.
There game is going to take place in East Lansing, at the Breslin Center, televised by ESPN as part of the Big 10/ACC Challenge, with the tip-off scheduled for 9:30 PM ET.
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These teams dealt out all the excitement they possibly could in their last meeting, when Michigan State topped Duke 68-67 to earn a trip to the Final Four. There has been some upheaval on both rosters, as you might imagine, although the Spartans have have a lot less. Duke has become largely a one-and-done school, with Coach K selling out to the idea of bringing in freshmen and sending them to the NBA. The latest stars out the door were Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, who went to New Orleans and New York, respectively.
So like John Calipari at Kentucky, they have to reload every year. But they did get things underway with a bang in the Champions Classic, forcing 28 turnovers on the part of Kansas, although that only earned them a two-point victory (68-66).
And just recently, they showed a chink in the armor, losing in overtime to Stephen F Austin and seeing a 150-game non-conference winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium come to an end against a school from a “small major” conference. Duke was very sloppy in that game, committing 22 turnovers and missing 16 free throws. Whether this turns out to be the exception rather than all rule remains to be seen.
Michigan State has lost twice – to Kentucky in the Champions Classic and Virginia Tech in the Maui Invitational.
In the Associated Press poll, Duke is now #10, down nine spots from its previous #1, while Michigan State, which began the season as the #1 team, has gone from third to 11th.
In the college basketball betting odds that have been posted on this game by the folks at BetAnySports – and including reduced juice – Michigan State is laying some points:
Michigan State Spartans -6.5 (-105)
Duke Blue Devils +6.5 (-105)
Over 147.5 points (-105)
Under 147.5 points (-105)
There are four freshman starting for Duke, and if you look in the consensus rankings of the nation’s top recruits, they were all among the Top 40. So Coach K has an embarrassment of riches every season, and no excuses. His top recruit was Vernon Carey, a 6-10 center who has proven to be very good right out of the box, averaging 18.4 points and 9.4 rebounds, and landing in the nation’s top 25 as far as Defensive Rebounding Percentage is concerned. So Duke once again has a guy can do some muscle work on the inside, although he may not be as athletically gifted as Zion.
The lone holdover from last year’s team that is in the starting lineup is Tre Jones, and it is Krzyzewski’s good fortune that he is the point guard. Last season he averaged 9.4 points and 5.3 assists, and also played all 40 minutes of the game against Michigan State. This year he has elevated his offensive game, with a 15.1-point average. He’s going to face off against Cassius Winston, a player of the year candidate, but there won’t be any big surprises for him.
Winston’s world has been rocked recently by the death of his brother. Tom Izzo thinks that has greatly affected his team, as has the trip to Hawaii. And Joshua Langford, who may have been an All-America candidate, may not come back this season from his ankle injury. Xavier Tillman, however, is one pivot man who can challenge Carey down low.
We realize that Duke is a younger team, but you know, we were thinking that way in Michigan State’s opener, and Kentucky simply came out and outplayed them with a number of frosh. Jones is a steadying influence at point guard, Carey will be hard to move. Duke will hit the offensive boards (sixth best in the nation) and the Blue Devils force turnovers and tempo. I think the points are worth grabbing here.
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