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Men’s Basketball Game Thread: Duke Blue Devils vs. Michigan State Spartans

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NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The tough non-conference schedule for the No. 11 Michigan State Spartans continues tonight as the No. 10 Duke Blue Devils make the roughly 712-mile trip from Durham, North Carolina to East Lansing, Michigan.

Tonight’s matchup between the two powerhouse programs is part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. This year’s series is currently tied with one a piece for each conference, as Miami (FL.) nearly escaped Illinois by a score of 81-79, and Minnesota made quick work of Clemson in a 78-60 victory.

Update (just before MSU tip-off): Big Ten now leads 3-2. Northwestern defeated Boston College, while Iowa handled Syracuse. Meanwhile, Michigan fell to Louisville. Florida State/Indiana and Rutgers/Pittsburgh are currently underway.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils have historically caused a lot of problems for Tom Izzo and Michigan State, as Izzo is just 2-11 all-time in head-to-head matchups against Coach K. But it was Michigan State that got the win last time out against Duke, in last season’s Elite Eight, allowing the Spartans to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2015. The returning Blue Devils, such as Tre Jones, Javin DeLaurier, and of course, Krzyzewski, haven’t forgotten that.

Duke will be without freshman Cassius Stanley (12.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg) tonight, one of the team’s starting guards. That is a plus for Michigan State, but Duke still boasts plenty of talent. In addition to Stanley, Duke has some very impressive freshmen in center Vernon Carey Jr., (a former Michigan State target), forward Matthew Hurt and forward Wendell Moore Jr. Those three are combining for about 37 points per night. The team also has the aforementioned Jones at point guard, who is averaging about 15 points, seven assists four rebounds and two steals per game.

This is a really dangerous team and tough matchup for Michigan State. Duke recently lost in stunning fashion against Stephen F. Austin, so the Blue Devils will be coming to the Breslin Center looking to prove that they’re still amongst the nation’s elite — which they are.

For Michigan State, winning the rebound battle and limiting turnovers will be key to victory. Duke may be the more athletic team, but wings like Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown have the length and toughness to cause problems and make an impact on the defensive end. It will be important for both players to step up offensively as well, and take pressure off of Xavier Tillman and Cassius Winston. Henry and Brown need to be the X-factors tonight.

I could go on about this matchup, but it’s game thread time. We’ll start it early so y’all can comment on the Michigan versus Louisville game as well.

PS: Michigan State will also retire the No. 23 jersey tonight in honor of Draymond Green (although Tillman will continue to wear No. 23 for now)!