Tonight, there will be a ton of bandwagon Michigan St. fans. Whenever a school plays Duke in even a relatively big game, people–many who don’t regularly watch college basketball–express their support for the opposing team. This is where MSU “benefits.” Duke players are viewed by more than a few as smug, phony, pretentious and a bunch of other adjectives that aren’t flattering. Usually, the opposing team feeds off of their newfound fans and uses the extra aggression against the Blue Devils. Luckily, head coach Tom Izzo’s Spartans don’t need help getting up for anyone.
In the third round, the flashcard-using, sixth-seeded Memphis Tigers were completely taken out of their game by Michigan State and lost, 70-48. Memphis shot only 30% from the field while MSU shot 50%. MSU freshman shooting guard Gary Harris scored 16 of his career-high 23 points in the first half, and the Spartans did not relinquish the lead for the final 34:44 of the game. Memphis guard-forward D.J. Stephens was not nearly the factor he needed to be, and the same can be said about reserve Tigers forward Tarik Black. Stephens finished with only 3 points and no awe-inducing plays while Black scored 6 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the final game of his junior season. Just as integral to Sparty’s win as Harris was junior power forward Adreian Payne. Payne notched his fifth double-double in the last 7 games, putting up 14 points and 10 rebounds, to go with 5 blocks and 2 steals.
Duke drew the seventh-seeded Creighton Bluejays in Philly on Sunday and handily beat them, 66-50. With seemingly all of America behind him, Bluejays All-American forward Doug McDermott scored 21 points, but shot a measly 4-16 from the floor. If it weren’t for his perfect 12-12 performance from the free throw line and Duke’s Ryan Kelly, Mason Plumlee and Josh Hairston getting into foul trouble, Creighton would have lost by 26 instead of 16. Duke’s defense made things very difficult for McDermott, who I for some reason thought would have an advantage over the Duke defenders. Outside of freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon, who finished with an efficient 21 points on 5-9 shooting, no one on the Blue Devils seemed to have it going, offensively. One of the best three point shooters in the country, forward Ryan Kelly, gave Duke almost nothing in 28 minutes, scoring one point and pulling down 4 rebounds. Duke guard Seth Curry matched his per game average of 17, but could only manage to shoot 5-15 from the field.
Duke sniffed the top ranking in the country a few times this regular season, but so did Montana A&T, I do believe. Regardless of pointless rankings, Sparty must defend the three point line very well if they want to advance. They will be defending a Duke three point attack that is better than all but three other teams in the country. When the Blue Devils miss shots, MSU has to crash the glass, and hard. This also applies on the offensive end, where Payne and power forward Derrick Nix can use their physicality to create second scoring opportunities for MSU. Sparty will have to score early, but also wouldn’t mind running halfcourt sets. Harris will get his looks, but I predict Nix will get the call early and often. Plumlee is a very good basketball player, but guarding Nix one-on-one when he’s got all 260-360 going is a tall task. The same goes for Kelly when he’s guarding Payne in the midrange area. While both starting frontcourts give us great matchups, the backcourts cannot fade. MSU and Duke have a 1-2 combo that can create for themselves and for others, but are also prone to going cold and hurting their team more than helping.
Duke head coach Mike Krzyziewski and Izzo are two of college basketball’s best. Both teams have had fairly easy roads to the Sweet 16, and I figure this game will come down to who simply makes more adjustments. Sparty power center Derrick Nix is a senior, and doesn’t want to go home yet. Sparty wins. Go Green. Go White.