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Game Preview: Duke Blue Devils vs. Michigan State Spartans

By November 17, 2014November 26th, 2014No Comments


Game Preview

Duke Blue Devils (2-0, 0-0) vs. Michigan State Spartans (1-0, 0-0)

Champions Classic • Tuesday, November 18, 2014 • 7:00 PM • ESPN • Indianapolis, IN. • Bankers Life Fieldhouse (18,165)

  1. Snapshot


Duke (2-0) travels to Indianapolis to face Michigan State (1-0) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse Tuesday, November 18 in the State Farm Champions Classic. Tipoff is set for 7:00 p.m. with ESPN televising the contest. Duke is 2-1 in State Farm Champions Classic games, including a 74-69 win over Michigan State at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2011 in the first year of the event. Mike Krzyzewski passed Bobby Knight as the winningest Division I men’s basketball coach in NCAA history in that contest. The Blue Devils have had a great deal of success in Indianapolis over the course of Krzyzewski’s tenure in Durham. Duke won the 1991 and 2010 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis and are 8-2 overall under Coach K in the city. Duke is ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll, while Michigan State is ranked No. 19. The Blue Devils are 58-13 all-time when ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll and 10-7 all-time against the 19th-ranked team in the poll. Duke is playing its third game in a five-day span and will play five games over the first nine days of the season. The Blue Devils travel to Brooklyn November 21-22 for the championship rounds of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Duke topped the 100-point mark in each of its first two games of the season, shooting over 60.0 percent from the field in both contests. Seven different Blue Devils have scored in double-figures this season with Quinn Cook, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow reaching double figures in both contests. Duke won each of its first two games by 50 or more points, marking the first time since the 1997-98 season the Blue Devils have posted back-to-back 50+ scoring margin victories.

Michigan State

Michigan State is ranked 19th going into Tuesday night’s Champions Classic game against No. 4 Duke at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. Given the national respect heaped on MSU over the past decade-plus, the ratings disparity may be disorienting, but it is not as if Coach Tom Izzo will be wandering aimlessly into unchartered territory. “I’ve been an underdog so many times in my career it doesn’t faze me,” said Izzo, who has run the gamut, with regard to perception and reality, in his 20 seasons. Whatever the Spartans look like before, during and after playing the Blue Devils is almost certain to bear little resemblance to how they will appear in January, February, and March. Sophomore guard Alvin Ellis III, who started the season opener at Navy and played only three minutes before having his night ended by a sprained right ankle, will be severely limited if he plays at all. Junior guard Bryn Forbes is the next man up, but he’s playing with a brace on his injured left hand and Izzo will get no relief from true freshman Javon Bess, whose debut has been delayed by a broken foot for about a month. And, MSU’s performance in the 64-59 victory against the Midshipmen, which senior guard Travis Trice called “rocky” and Izzo labeled “a little bit disappointing,” raised more questions than it answered. Senior guard Branden Dawson, projected to be the first player to start all four Champions Classics, is looking forward to coming out of it with a 3-1 record. “We’ve been in this position many times,” Dawson said. “Since my freshman year, we’ve always been the underdogs and we won a Big Ten championship. It’s really not about where you’re ranked; it’s about how you play.”


  1. Team Seasons Thus Far


Duke Blue Devils

In its second official outing of the year, Duke put up another huge point total, and none of the fourth-ranked Blue Devils have had to do too much by themselves. Freshman Justise Winslow scored 18 points in Duke’s 109-59 rout of Fairfield on Saturday night in its second game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Freshman Center Jahlil Okafor and Senior Guard Quinn Cook each scored 17 for the Blue Devils.

Duke shot 64.5 percent, hitting better than 60 percent for the second straight game, used a 30-10 run that bridged the halves and kept pulling away. Junior Forward Amile Jefferson finished with 15 points helping Duke score 100 points in consecutive games for the first time since the Kyrie Irving-led team in November 2010. In two exhibition games and two in the regular season, Duke has yet to have a scorer reach 20 points. Senior Guard Marcus Gilbert had 15 points for Fairfield (1-1) before fouling out with 6:22 remaining.

Playing a little over 24 hours after the third-most lopsided game in program history, a 113-44 rout of Presbyterian, the Blue Devils got a bit more of a test from the Stags. This was an eight-point game with less than 3 minutes remaining before halftime, before Duke’s decisive run came. “We let up a couple times and we let their best player (Gilbert) get going,” Cook said, adding that coach Mike Krzyzewski “got after us and we responded well.” And not surprisingly, Okafor played a key role in getting it going.
The freshman star scored 19 points in his debut and has missed only three shots during his brief college career. He assisted on the first bucket of the burst and followed with layups about a minute apart to really get the run going. Winslow then hit an alley-oop layup from Cook with about 3 seconds before the break to make it 44-30. Cook hit two three-pointers in the first 5 minutes of the second half before Marshall Plumlee capped it with a free throw that made it 66-38 with 13:43 to play, and it was all Duke after that. The competition gets much tougher next time out as No. 18 Michigan State awaits Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis. Then, tougher yet as Duke then travels to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY to play Temple on Wednesday night then a game with UNLV or Stanford on Thursday night.

Overall, Mike Krzyzewski has led the Blue Devils to 18 consecutive seasons with 20 or more wins, the longest active streak in the NCAA. He has started three or more freshmen in a game 37 times at Duke, including both games this season. Coach K started three or more freshmen 27 times during the 1982-83 season. Duke’s top-rated freshmen class, Grayson Allen, Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor, and Justise Winslow, have combined for 117 of the team’s 222 points through two games. All four freshmen are averaging double figures, while shooting 67.2 percent from the field (45-of-67). Duke is shooting 62.6 percent (82-of-131) from the field as a team through two games with seven Blue Devils shooting over 60.0 percent. Rasheed Sulaimon (1.000, 4-of-4), Okafor (.850, 17-of-20), and Marshall Plumlee (.800, 4-of-5) are each shooting 80.0 percent or better from the field.

Senior guard Cook became the 64th player in Duke history to surpass the 1,000-point mark in the win over Fairfield. He now has 1,004 career points and is 21 points shy of moving into the top 60 of Duke’s career scoring chart. Duke’s bench has accounted for 82 points over the first two games of the season. In the opener vs. Presbyterian, Duke’s reserves outscored the Blue Hose, 46-44. Allen and Matt Jones lead the bench brigade in scoring at 13.5 and 8.5 points per game, respectively. Duke has scored 50 or more points in three of its four halves, including a season best 65 points in the second half against Fairfield. The 65-point second half was the sixth most in program history. The Blue Devils have converted 35 turnovers into 69 points in the first two games of the year, averaging 1.97 points per possession following an opponent’s turnover.

Duke is shooting 47.2 percent from three-point range and averaging 12.5 made threes per game after two contests. Cook has a team-high seven three-point field goals as six different Blue Devils have made three or more shots from three-point range. The Blue Devils have trailed for just 18 seconds through the first two games of the season. Duke has two more offensive rebounds (29) than its opponents have defensive rebounds (27) on the year. Junior Amile Jefferson leads the Blue Devils in offensive rebounds (10) as well as rebounds per game (9.5). All 10 recruited scholarship players on the Duke roster are averaging at least 15.0 minutes per game. On the opening weekend of college basketball, 12 teams topped the 100-point mark. Duke is the only team to score 100 or more points in each of its first two games.

Duke’s guard trio of Cook, Jones, and Sulaimon combine to average 32.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 14.5 assists per game with a 5.8:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Okafor was named ACC Rookie of the Week after averaging 18.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game, while shooting 85.0 percent (17-of-20) from the field. Sophomore Matt Jones is off to strong start averaging 8.5 points per game on 75.0 percent shooting from the field. Last season, he struggled with his shot (29.4 percent), while averaging 1.8 PPG.

Michigan State

The Spartans prepared for the regular season with two lopsided exhibition victories at home over The Master’s College (97-56) and St. Cloud State (101-46). They then traveled to Annapolis, MD where two wonderful days at the Naval Academy ended for Michigan State with a very ugly victory. After touring the institution, eating at the mess hall, and interacting with the Midshipmen on Thursday, No. 18 Michigan State struggled mightily during the business portion of the trip, squeezing past Navy 64-59 Friday night in the Veterans Classic. Looking back at his experience at the inaugural event, Spartans coach Tom Izzo said, “I was impressed with everything but Michigan State, to be honest with you.”

Senior Guard Travis Trice scored a career-high 25 points for the Spartans, who blew most of a 13-point lead in the second half. Though having a height advantage and supposedly a huge talent edge, Michigan State got all it could handle from the disciplined Midshipmen. “The bottom line is, they played like they are: military people,” Izzo said. “They didn’t quit.”

Michigan State led 44-43 with 11 minutes left and 53-50 with 7 minutes remaining before Navy went cold. A 3-pointer by Denzel Valentine, coupled with a layup by Braden Dawson with 5:29 to go, upped the margin to eight points. It wasn’t good enough. The Midshipmen cut it to 60-57, and again the Spartans appeared in trouble. Trice made the difference. His driving shot with 1:46 left made it 62-57, and his three free throws in the final 18 seconds sealed it. “It’s not about me right now. It’s about the team,” Trice said. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re doing wrong. That’s not how we want to play.”

Edward Alade led Navy with 12 points. The Midshipmen were outrebounded 38-30 but stayed close by forcing 15 turnovers and committing only 10. Each team went 6 for 10 from the foul line with Michigan State getting most of those attempts in the closing minutes.

Overall, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo understands the questions surrounding the 2014-15 Spartans. In fact, he had similar questions at the beginning of the summer. He knows that MSU is without three of its top four scorers from last season, including 2014 NBA Draft first rounders Adreian Payne and Gary Harris, and three-year starter Keith Appling, who himself opens fall in an NBA camp. And still, Izzo, who enters his 20th season directing the Spartans, is excited for the upcoming season. Summer and fall workouts have been encouraging. In particular, a core group of upperclassmen has emerged ready to lead the Spartans to great heights in 2014-15. “There’s certainly more question marks this season, but it’s been that way in different years, and it’s worked out great,” said Izzo. “We might have the best leadership that we’ve had in a few years, which is very encouraging. Our guys worked so hard this summer, and I think that will pay dividends.”

Michigan State returns three of its top six scorers and five of its top nine from last year’s squad. Senior Branden Dawson is MSU’s leading returning scorer (11.2) and rebounder (8.3). Had he played in one more contest in 2013-14 he would have qualified for the Big Ten statistics, and would have ranked second in the conference in rebounding and first in field-goal percentage (.613). He averaged 15.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in postseason play, shooting .681 from the field, and earning Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Senior Travis Trice ranked third in overall 3-point field goal

percentage (.434) and was second in Big Ten games (.483). In eight starts last season, he averaged 9.3 points and 3.6 assists with a 5.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. Junior Denzel Valentine was the only Spartan to appear in every game last year and was the only player in the Big Ten to rank in the Top 15 in both rebounding (t-11th) and assists (8th). Junior Matt Costello started 20 games in the Spartan frontcourt in 2013-14 and ranked 10th in the Big Ten in blocks. Sophomores Alvin Ellis III and Gavin Schilling both appeared in more than 30 contests and are slated to play a larger role in 2014-15.

Several new Spartans will also play a major role in 2014-15. Junior Bryn Forbes is immediately eligible after two seasons at Cleveland State where he made 142 3-pointers. He averaged 15.6 points per game as a sophomore, including scoring 22 at Kentucky. Freshmen Javon Bess, Marvin Clark Jr., and Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn Jr., also are expected to be a regular part of the rotation. Nairn is among the

fastest players in the nation and possesses great leadership skills and toughness. Bess was the 2014 Ohio Division I co-player of the year. Clark is already among the strongest players of the Tom Izzo era. Freshman walk-on Kenny Goins could see some spot minutes in the frontcourt. Junior Erin Harris transferred in from West Virginia in the spring and must sit out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

With 906 career points, Branden Dawson is poised to become the next member of Michigan State’s 1000-point club early this season. He’ll become the 46th Spartan to reach that milestone. Current Spartan Bryn Forbes has 910 career points, but 905 came in his first two seasons at Cleveland State.

Michigan State established a school single-season record in 2013-14 with 307 made 3-pointers, 54 more than the previous school record. The Spartans made 10 or more 3-pointers in 14 games, including a school single-game record 17 at Purdue, tying the Big Ten record for a conference game. In exhibition play, it appears the Spartans are every bit as prolific from distance this season, connecting on 21-of-47 attempts (.447). In the opener against Navy, MSU hit 8-of-19 (.421), led by Travis Trice connecting on a career-high five 3-pointers in six attempts.

Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine are threats to post a double-double every time they take the court. Dawson ranked tied for second in the Big Ten last season with six double-doubles, while Valentine ranked tied for 13th with three. For his career, Dawson has 12 double-doubles, while Valentine has totaled four. In exhibition play, Dawson posted a double-double in one game, while Valentine had two, including a triple-double against St. Cloud State.

Moving to a 14-team conference for 2014-15, each Big Ten team will play five schools twice, four schools on the road, and four schools at home. Michigan State will go home and home with Maryland, Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan, and Illinois. The Spartans will host Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota, and Purdue, while traveling to Iowa, Nebraska, Rutgers, and Wisconsin. Eight of Michigan State’s 13 Big Ten opponents appeared in the 2014 postseason, including five in the NCAA Tournament (Iowa,

Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin), two in the NIT (Illinois, Minnesota) and one in the CBI (Penn State).


  1. Head-to-Head

Duke leads the all-time series against Michigan State, 8-2, including a 5-2 advantage on a neutral court. The last five meetings in the series, and seven of the last eight, have all been decided by 10 points or less. The Spartans’ last win in the series was a 78-68 victory in the Sweet 16 of the 2005 NCAA Tournament in Dallas. Since then, Duke has won three straight, including a victory in the 2011 Champions Classic. Duke has an 8-2 record against Michigan State, having played last in March 2013 in which Duke won.

[Comparative statistics will start being displayed and discussed after Duke has played five games.]


  1. Four Factors to Winning
[Will be displayed after Duke has played five games.]


  1. Key Points to Consider
[More substantive single game thoughts will be provided after Duke has played five games.]

A few points to consider from Duke’s perspective:

  • Get off to a fast start – run hard on both ends of the court
  • Rebounding – Prove to the nation that this team can rebound well against an established team
  • Establish Okafor in post – he must dominate down low, particularly on the defensive end
  • Push the tempo – push the ball on both offensive and defensive ends of the court
  • Hit open three’s – Michigan State will be double- and triple-teaming Okafor, which should help the in-and-out game


  1. Endgame

The majority of the analysts have the Duke Blue Devils entering the 2014-15 season as one of the favorites for the 2015 National Championship. Many also posit that they have already proven their top-five ranking by dominating their two opening opponents by a combined score of 222-103. However, keep in mind the overall talent level of their opponents. Although it is very early, and I do mean very early, Duke, who boasted the No. 1 overall recruiting class in 2014, does look exactly like a top-five team is supposed to look, athletic, explosive, and most importantly, efficient. This said, the Blue Devils will face their first challenge of the season in the Champions Classic when they face Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans have received nice early-season production from Travis Trice and Branden Dawson, but the rest of the team struggled in their opener against Navy. Maybe it was just an early-season fluke, but only two days after their narrow win over Navy, the Midshipman lost by 39 to Notre Dame. This could be a close game and I think that Michigan State will come out strong, possibly trading the lead until late in the first half. But, the Blue Devils will eventually overpower Izzo’s squad based on sheer talent.

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