The focus of college basketball this week will be the ACC versus Big Ten Challenge. There are plenty of storied programs ready to go to battle with one another. You have number one Louisville Cardinals taking on the surprise number four Michigan Wolverines. You have the number six Ohio State Buckeyes battling the North Carolina Tar Heels. And the matchup we consider the marquee one features Duke and Michigan State. They may not have the rankings currently of other programs, but they are great teams. Legendary coaches in Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski will go to war once again. So what is the keys to this matchup for each side? What is one concern about each team going into this game? And who will win this game? Let us take a look and see.
Keys For Michigan State
- Cassius Winston: Michigan State already has two losses on the year, and in both of those games, Cassius has struggled. He had 21 points against Kentucky but was only 5/12 overall and 1/7 from three. Winston also turned it over three times, which cannot happen as their leader. He also only had seven points against Virginia Tech, attempting only eight shots. He must make some shots early to develop a rhythm for himself and his guys.
- Ball Possession: The Spartans typically do an excellent job of not turning the ball over. The average 11 per game this year, however, they lose when they do. Kentucky and Virginia Tech both forced 16 turnovers against Michigan State. Take care of the ball, and you have a chance to knock off Duke.
- Post Play: Duke has struggled all year with teams scoring in the paint. Stephen F. Austin had 64 points in the paint against them. Goldwire and Jones are great defensive guards, so let Tillman and Henry get to the rim.
Keys for Duke
- Free Throws: Free throws haunted Duke in the SFA game as they went 24/40 in that game. They only shoot 67% as a team, so they must capitalize when they get to the line — especially Vernon Carey Jr., who is 34/60 on the year.
- Upper Classmen Play: We knew to come into the year that Duke had a ton of freshman talent. That talent dwindled a bit when Cassius Stanley got hurt. Tre Jones has been solid, but others must step up. Joey Baker, Alex O’Connell, and Javin DeLaurier only average thirteen points combined. They must connect for 20+, or this game could be over early.
- Ball Possession: Unlike the Spartans, Duke has not taken care of the ball all year. They average over 15 per game, so they must improve on this. They had an inexcusable 22 turnovers versus SFA. Tre Jones has over three per game on the year, after 1.5 per game last year. Do not let Michigan State get out and run.
Every fiber of my being wants to take Duke in this game. As a life-long Duke fan I know Coach K has it in him to coach this team to a win. But sadly I have to go with the Spartans for 3 reasons.
- Home Court Advantage: If this game was in front of the crazies or neutral site, I think Duke could step up and win. Playing in East Lansing is a considerable advantage, and Duke will be booed all night. They lack the experience to win in that environment right now.
- No Cassius Stanley: The Blue Devils shooting guard had impressed all year, so his injury is devastating. O’Connell and DeLaurier have disappointed when called upon, and I do not see that changing. Cassius Winston will have a great game if O’Connell has to cover him at any point.
- Past Experience: It was not too long ago that Michigan State eliminated Duke from the NCAA tournament to get to the Final Four. No Zion or RJ on this team and Winston and Tillman are still there. Tom Izzo knows how to beat a group of freshman guys. With his veteran guys, I expect them to knock off Duke at home.
Michigan State 71 Duke 65
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