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Michigan State Spartans NCAA Tournament Basketball Final Four Preview: Duke

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Previewing the Final Four matchup against Duke

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Four Factors

Spoiler alert: Duke is amazingly efficient offensively. KenPom has them as the third most efficient offense in the country. They're better than MSU in every category. It's rather terrifying.

Despite the efficiency of Duke's offense all year long, Duke's defense has held all of their opponents in this tournament to under 0.9 points per possession. Only Robert Morris broke 30% from three against Duke, which was a major factor in that efficiency. More on this in a second.

When Duke has the Ball

Jahlil Okafor vs. Mavin Costelling

I'd say it's Jahlil Okafor and friends, but those friends are pretty good players in their own right. Still, Okafor is the highest usage guy and has hit exactly two-thirds of his shots from the field. In the first game against MSU, he was 8 for 10 from the field, but did turn the ball over three times and got into some foul trouble.

Mavin Costelling (the combination of Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling) shot a total of one free throw in that first game, so I'm not sure that fouls will become an issue for Okafor again. The MSU defense didn't provide a whole lot of help in that first game when it was 1-on-1 in the post, and given the activity levels defensively in the tournament, I do expect this to change.

Okafor draws 5.4 fouls per 40 minutes on average and plays about 75% of minutes. Mavin Costelling, weighting for minutes played, averages about 5.1 fouls per 40 minutes, combined. Foul trouble shouldn't be an issue for the bigs, but probably will be because I wrote this sentence.

MSU put up a bagel in the blocks category the first time around, and in general it felt like the defense wasn't contesting shots very well. That's borne out in the stats, where Duke shot 50% from three and 55.6% from two. I expect this to improve, especially because MSU posts a pretty high block rate of 12.8%, good for 44th in the country.

MSU has uncharacteristically been poor on the defensive glass in this tournament, but the general level of defensive activity has more than compensated for that deficiency. MSU dominated the defensive glass in the first game against Duke; I think there's a happy medium with active defense and blocking out that could be achieved. Holding Duke to rebounding just a quarter of their misses would go a long way.

Quick player bullets:

Quinn Cook has done a nice job of taking a backseat role to Okafor, posting his lowest usage and highest efficiency of his career. He's not distributing the ball quite as much, and that belies a larger tendency for Duke to not share the ball particularly well (just 147th in terms of assists per field goal). Hero-ball for Duke's offense is a good thing.

Tyus Jones is running the point and doing a nice job taking care of the ball for a freshman. He's shooting well from outside the arc but his 43.8% from inside the arc is not particularly impressive. He's a guy who should be run off the line if possible.

Justise Winslow I'll talk about more in a second.

Amile Jefferson presents one of the more concerning matchup issues when he's in the game, because he's several inches taller than Branden Dawson and Marvin Clark, and generally pushes Winslow to the three. I would think Duke would want him in the game for Matt Jones because of this fact, but he's coming off the bench.

Matt Jones is basically a taller version of Bryn Forbes. A gunner from three who won't turn the ball over.

Duke is rail thin on the bench, playing just 6 guys more than 10 minutes per game. KenPom puts them at 308th in the nation in terms of bench minutes. A game called tightly both ways could be helpful. But those calls have to actually go both ways.

When MSU has the Ball

Duke's defensive style is well-suited to a favorite: they don't allow many threes to be attempted and opponents shoot poorly from three when those shots are taken. Duke is 11th in the nation in percentage of opponent field goals that are threes, and Duke opponents shoot just 31.2% from behind the arc. MSU should want to increase the potential variance in this game by shooting many threes, but that might not be the best strategy given Duke's profile.

I'm shamelessly stealing the charts from Kirk Goldsberry for the top 5 MSU scorers:

This chart sort of sells short Travis Trice's ability to finish near the rim as of late, but it does show that if MSU can't get good looks from outside, then the finishing ability of Denzel Valentine, Dawson, and Costello will be especially important. It's no surprise that in the first game Dawson was so effective, going 8 for 10 from the field himself.

Duke forces a mortal 46.4% from two, good for 117th nationally. There will probably be easy looks around the rim, and MSU will need to convert.

Branden Dawson vs. Justise Winslow

To me, this is the matchup of the game. Check out the two of their statlines matched up against each other:

Winslow can shoot the ball a bit better, and Dawson rebounds the ball a bit better. They're exactly the same size.

Winslow has Mark Titus asking why he shouldn't be the number one pick in the upcoming NBA draft, and this is Dawson's potentially last, best chance to prove his NBA potential. Dawson represents the platonic ideal of intercollegiate athletics: the player who stayed for four years, has overcome issues both with injuries and the difficulties having a young son. Winslow represents the NCAA as a feeder system for the NBA.

Dawson won this matchup the first time, and at least a draw is probably necessary.

Prediction

Here's what an MSU win would look like, basically:

(I recommend starting at about 1:45 in). Easy analogy with Duke as the evil empire, Travis Trice as Luke, and Tom Izzo as Obi-Wan. Han Solo is clearly Denzel Valentine, Dawson is Chewbacca, and Tum Tum is R2D2 (and by extension, Marvin Clark is C3PO). Does this mean Coach K is Darth Vader? Probably.

Anyways, it's a long shot, but it's possible. Several things have to go right; MSU will need the equivalent of the Millenium Falcon dropping in at the last second. It's unlikely that MSU will be able to find enough space on the perimeter to get the looks necessary to win by shooting threes. Getting good looks while taking care of the ball is paramount, as Okafor is likely to get his on the other end.

Let's hope Travis Trice has been practicing his womp rat shooting.

Duke 76 - MSU 69