Final Four Preview: Duke vs. Michigan State

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Boy, oh boy. How lucky are we? Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski facing off in the Final Four — Christmas in April. While its no real surprise that the Blue Devils have made it this far, it is rather astonishing that Michigan State has made it to Indianapolis.

This Final Four marks Izzo’s seventh as head coach of the Spartans in what maybe his best coaching job of his storied career.

While Coach K is searching for his fifth national title, he is also trying to win his third in the city of Indianapolis. In 1992, Duke upset the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV in the Hoosier Dome and in 2010, Duke ruined the greatest basketball story ever told by beating Butler just three miles away from their own campus inside Lucas Oil Stadium. (The City of Indianapolis and I are still bitter.)

The Rematch

Saturday night’s matchup will be the second time these two squads have played this season. The first time the Dukies and Sparty played, it was November 18, just a few blocks from Lucas Oil Stadium at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Duke was triumphant over the Spartans 81-71, led by senior Quinn Cook’s 19 points and six assists and Jahlil Okafor’s 17 points. Michigan State’s starting five played well in their November meeting, especially Brendan Dawson who scored 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and corralling nine rebounds. Sparty’s bench production, or lack there of, was the downfall as the reserves chipped in just 10 points.

Match-up to Watch

Duke’s stud freshman, big man Okafor earns all of the headlines, and rightfully so, but the Blue Devils’ great guard play is what makes this offense so deadly. Cook and Tyus Jones combine to make arguably the best backcourt in all of basketball, ranking 14th and 61st nationally in KenPom’s offensive efficiency category. Cook and Jones are complimented by another stud freshman, swingman Justise Winslow. Winslow is the Swiss Army knife of this Duke offense that is ranked third nationally in offensive efficiency and posts 80 points per game, fourth most in the country.

Where Duke is successful, they also struggle — the backcourt. While Jones, Cook, and Winslow are great offensive weapons, they aren’t going to win any Defensive Player of the Year awards. None of Duke’s guards are noteworthy defenders, and that has been the Achilles heel of this Blue Devils team. In Duke’s four losses, the winning team scored more than 75 points, 11 points more than Duke’s defensive average. Michigan State can be another one of those teams.

The Spartans are built perfectly to adapt to their opponents. Want to run? Sparty can do that. Want to work the shot clock on both ends of the floor? No problem, Sparty can handle that too. The Spartans’ backcourt of Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine might be just a shade under the class of Duke’s in terms of scoring, but defensively, they are a cut above. And much like that of Duke’s Winslow, Michigan State has a do-everything swingman in Dawson. Cook, Jones, Winslow versus Dawson, Trice, and Valentine? Sign us up.

Prediction

Duke is favored by five and a half points. Seems fair. But don’t be shocked if the Spartans find a way to win. Betting against either Izzo or Coach K seems ridiculous, but give me the Dukies to win for a second time over Sparty, 78-74 … maybe.

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