The Michigan State Spartans will take on the Duke Blue Devils with a trip to the championship game on the line. This is the second meeting this season of the two storied programs. Duke won the first meeting on November 18 by 10 points, but much has changed for both teams since then.
Tom Izzo has worked his magic again and has his team in the Final Four. Few people would've seen this coming in the middle of February, but you can never count an Izzo coached team out. The Spartans are playing their best basketball of the year right now and have won eight of their last nine games. Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine are both playing at a high level and are largely responsible with the Spartans Final Four run. They will have to continue their impressive play on Saturday evening to keep up with Duke's impressive offense.
While Michigan State has had success playing against higher seeded teams, they haven't faced a team as talented as Duke. The Blue Devils are a deep team that have the ability to get scoring from all five of its starters. They boast of having arguably the best offenses in the country and are ranked third in the nation in field goal percentage (50%) and fourth in points per game (80.6). T
he Blue Devils are led by standout freshman Jahlil Okafor (17.5 ppg and 8.7 rpg). Although he is coming off subpar performances against Gonzaga and Utah, 9 and 16 points respectively, there's no reason to believe he can't have a huge game against the Spartans. They're offensive attack is also fuelled by Quinn Cook (15.5 ppg), Tyus Jones (11.6 ppg and 5.7 apg), and Justise Winslow (12.5 ppg). Duke has a well balanced attack and has proven throughout the season they can beat teams both inside and outside. The Spartans' defenders will have their hands full in this one.
Player to Watch
The Spartans couldn't find a way to contain the freshman phenom in their previous matchup with Duke in November. Okafor put up 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Matt Costello and Gavin Shilling will have to do a better job of neutralizing Okafor offensively for State to pull off the upset.
Don't expect Michigan State to double Okafor on Saturday evening. Doubling the standout freshman has come back to bite most opponents because of Duke's tremendous 3 point shooting. The job of guarding the dominant freshman will be left up to Costello and Shilling. Izzo will make sure to have a fresh body on Okafor by switching up the playing time between Costello and Shilling.
Shilling may be better suited to guard Okafor on Saturday evening given his previous history of playing with the Duke center. They both played on the same AAU team and Shilling may be able to use that experience to his advantage while defending Okafor in the post.
Mike Krzyzewski vs Tom Izzo
The most intriguing matchup of the game might not take place on the court. Both Coach K and Izzo have done excellent jobs of bringing their teams to the Final Four. It's difficult to say one coach has done a better job this season. While it can be argued Duke has more talent than Michigan State, it doesn't mean Coach K's job of bringing his team to the Final Four was any less impressive. He was able to take a team with three freshman starters to the Final Four, which is no easy task. Izzo on the other has made an underdog Michigan State team believe they're good enough to compete for a national title.
Izzo will look to gain ground on Coach K in their individual rivalry. Izzo has lost 8 of their 9 head to head matchups. While the record is heavily tilted in Coach K's favour, Izzo can even up the tournament record at two games apiece with a win.