Previewing MSU vs. Duke

USA TODAY Sports

(3) MSU vs. (2) Duke
Game time
: 9:45 p.m. ET.
Location: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
TV: CBS
Online streaming: March Madness On Demand
Radio: Spartan Sports Network
Bracket:
Here
TOC Bracket Challenge:
Here
TOC Pick 16 Standings: Here

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When we all settled in for Jabari Parker's announcement in December, I think most Spartan fans had the same feeling. After years of success built on talented, but not elite, players, Parker's decision to join MSU would make the Spartans a legit national title contender for 2014. Izzo was again willing to fight for the one-and-done players to get that elusive second national championship.

But we know what happened. Parker pulled out a Duke shirt, and an opportunity to be looked at as a truly elite program that brings in the top players was gone. Izzo went all-in and lost.

This isn't about Parker, though.

Izzo is 1-6 against Mike Krzyzewski. That takes a toll on a reputation. Yeah, Duke is Duke. But MSU wants to be Duke. Friday's game won't make MSU a better or worse program. But people can name which team eliminated Duke from the tournament for years.

Would a win change MSU's program? No. Especially if it's followed with a loss in the Elite Eight. But it's an opportunity for a little more respect. An opportunity to stop the ass-kicking the state of North Carolina has given the program. And for Izzo, who has a 1-1 NCAA Tournament record against Krzyzewski, an opportunity to make the king bleed.

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This year's Duke team is like most Duke teams, statisitcally.

Offensively, jump-shooting is key, and it's very good. The Blue Devils are No. 5 in adjusted offense, shooting 40.3 percent on 3s (No. 5) and 51.3 percent on 2s (No. 40). They don't beat themselves, turning the ball over just 15.6 percent of the time (No. 4). They're decent at getting to the free-throw line (38.4 percent, No. 101).

The individual numbers are high, but that's because this isn't a deep team. All five starters average at least 11 points and two rebounds, but the sixth-leading scorer only averages 4.1 points. This despite being No. 93 in tempo. MSU likes to use its bench in the first half, so it will be interesting to see if MSU looks fresher in the second half at all.

Center Mason Plumlee (17.2 points, 10.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks) is the No. 1 option. He's a tall, long player, which tends to cause problems for Derrick Nix. On the other hand, Plumlee has struggled to score on strong post players, which Nix is. Nix can't guard Plumlee out high, allowing him to drive to the hoop.

The leading scorer is Seth Curry (17.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists), who can be deadly. He'll probably be matched up with Gary Harris, who has to use his length and not go under the screens, giving Curry a look from deep. The other notable matchup is Adreian Payne against Ryan Kelly. Both are power forwards who can shoot from deep. The difference is that Payne is a much better rebounder and is more athletic. Kelly scored 36 points against Miami in his first game back from a foot injury and then 18 against Virginia Tech. But in the four games since, Kelly has scored a total of 25 points, averaging just two field goals made.

Elsewhere, Quinn Cook (12.0 points, 5.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds) runs the point and will by guarded by Keith Appling/Travis Trice. It sounds like Appling will be playing with something on his shoulder. We'll see if that affects him at all. Branden Dawson will match up with Rasheed Sulaimon (11.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists) on the wing. After that, there's not much from Duke. They rely on their starters, and that has worked out quite well for them.

I think the biggest key simply is not let Duke kill them with three-pointers. Switch on the ball screens (MSU has a height advantage with the guards) and go over the screen on pick-and-rolls. MSU has the athleticism and strength inside to bother Duke. Don't give them open jumpers.

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Defensively, Duke is solid, but not great. No. 23 in adjusted D, with opponents shooting 29.5 percent from 3 (No. 11), but 45.7 percent on 2s (No. 102). MSU likes to score inside, and it will have to in this one, as difficult as it might be. Plumlee and Kelly have decent block numbers, but as a team, it's just No. 171 as a team.

Duke is No. 69 in letting opponents get to the free-throw line, but they were in big foul trouble against Creighton. Keep your conspiracy theories to yourself, but getting one of Duke's bigs in foul trouble would be huge. Of course, that goes both ways.

On the glass, this is where MSU *has* to dominate. Duke grabs just 29.1 percent of its misses (No. 260), while opponents grab 32.4 percent (No. 160). KJ pointed out MSU's rebounding trend earlier this week, and it's trending up over the past 10 games.

Duke isn't going to turn the ball over. MSU has to get extra possessions on the glass and avoid giving them away with turnovers. MSU's general recipe for success all season.

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KenPom projects a 67-66 win for Duke, giving the Spartans a 47 percent chance, so it's basically a toss up. MSU tends to do succeed more against teams that have better offenses than defenses. That's probably because MSU's defense is better than its offense. I picked a 65-63 MSU win, not that it means anything.

There has been a long build-up for this game. MSU played the first game last Thursday and the second game on Saturday. This Duke game will be one of the last of the Sweet 16. MSU couldn't ask for any more rest. It's time to go.

It's been a season of fighting for respect, both individually and collectively, for this MSU team. Mark Dantonio likes to talk about program wins. Izzo's program doesn't need to prove itself, but on Friday, it can get a little more respect, and some long-awaited revenge.

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