PREVIEW: Duke (2-0) v. Michigan St (1-0)

The Blue Devils and Spartans will meet for the first time since the 2013 NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night in the State Farm Champions Classic.


?F- 22 Branden Dawsen (10.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
F- 45 Denzel Valentine (21.0 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
?F- 10 Matt Costello (10.0 ppg, 12.0 rpg)
?G- 20 Travis Trice (4.0 ppg, 1.0 rpg.)
G- 05 Bryn Forbes (2.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg)

Note: Alvin Ellis, a sophomore guard was expected to start, but injured his ankle in the opener and is classified as “very questionable” for the game against Duke.

?Brendan Dawson was a five star recruit and the nation’s No. 4 small forward in the class of 2011. He’s battled injuries at times during his career, but has still put up solid career averages including 11.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 28.3 minutes per game a season ago. Is Dawson ready for a bigger role this year? He may or may not be, but it’s also clear that the 6-foot-6 senior doesn’t have a choice in the matter as the Spartans face a number of roster questions. For his part, Dawson is a powerfully built wing player who likes to mix it up on the glass and scores efficiently around the rim, but will not journey to the perimeter to launch jumpers (he took one all of last season). He’s also Sparty’s best defender who will be tasked with defending, arguably, Duke’s best early season player, Justise Winslow.

While Dawson came to Michigan State with all the high school accolades and ratings, the Spartans’ other senior leader, Travis Trice, was a mere three star point guard recruit who selected Coach Izzo’s program over an offer from Wright State. Three years later and Trice has rounded into the team’s best perimeter shooter and primary ball handler. He’s quick end to end and will represent an interesting challenge for Duke to defend after he opened the season scoring 25 points against Navy on the strength of a big day behind the arc (5-of-6).

Back in the 2011 Champions Classic, both Dawson and Trice played extended minutes. Dawson starter and scored nine points while grabbing three rebounds in 27 minutes. Meanwhile, Trice came off the bench and played 20 minutes en route to scoring seven points.


Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky are all routinely loading up on five star prospects and McDonald’s All-Americans. Each of the three programs routinely compete against each other for the best of the best in high school basketball. Michigan State competes in the same circles, but unlike their counterparts, the Spartans haven’t been able to close on the elite prospects of late.

Since landing Dawson as the last member of the class of 2011, Michigan State recruiting has taken a bit of a turn for the worse. Izzo did land five star Gary Harris in 2012 along with a couple of four star players, but in 2013 the Spartans pulled in only a couple of three star players followed by a three man haul devoid of a top 100 prospect in the class of 2014.

In an age where the elite prospects may only be good for a year or so, back to back subpar classes aren’t calculated to keep a program among the truly elite. Compare that to a Duke program that has added nine five star prospects over the same period of time and there’s a decided talent gap.

And it seems that Izzo knows it.

“We’re about eight McDonald’s All-Americans short,” the Michigan State coach said of his matchup with Duke. “I think Duke is the best team [here], while Kentucky is the most talented. There are probably more unknowns for Kansas and Michigan State, and not as many at Kansas as there are for us."

So what does it mean for the Spartans’ chances on Tuesday? It could mean a long night if the team doesn’t play well, but for sure it means a very small margin of error according to Izzo.

"If we play like we did (against Navy), we'll get embarrassed, and that's sometimes a good thing.”


The Blue Devils have been terrific defending all over the court in the first two games and seem determined to erase memories of last year’s problems on that end of the court. As Duke prepares for the Spartans, it’ll be crucial to not only work on boxing out and controlling the glass, but also defending the perimeter.

Last year the Spartans set a program record with 307 made 3-pointers, 54 more than the previous school record. They hit 10 or more long range shots 17 times and seem to have more of the same ready for this year. 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.

It’ll be up to the Duke defense to chase the Spartans off the perimeter and to find the open shooter as Michigan State begins working in the half court. One way to do that is to apply copious amounts of perimeter pressure. Something Duke has done to the first two (overmatched) opponents in Cameron, and something the Spartans are wary of.

"We have to talk defensively because they press, the entire game they are going to press our guards," said Dawson.
Heading into the game there are a number of legitimate questions facing Michigan State. Unlike Duke, the Spartans struggled in their first game of the season against Navy.

In that game the Midshipmen forced 15 Michigan State turnovers and out-scored the MSU reserves by a 17-16 margin. Moreover, Navy held two of the Spartans’ better players - Dawson and Denzel Valentine - to performances that drew the ire of their coach in the post game.

"By far my most baffling stat is my junior and my senior, my two best players, that's the most baffling stat, by far,” said Izzo following the game. "Branden has his moments of highlight film, and he has his moments of low-light film.”

Those comments came after the team met in the locker room and, for their part, the upperclassman leaders were saying all the right things after speaking with their coach.

"We're going to have to do a better job of communicating, because if we don't, like coach said we're definitely going to get blown out,” said Dawson.

Several of Duke’s freshman class could be in Spartan green, but chose to go with Coach K instead. The two headline recruits, Tyus Jones and Jahlil Okafor both considered the Spartans heavily, but opted to join classmates Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow in Durham. And, so far, the results have been as good as could be expected.

In their two games the quartet of newcomers have averaged 58.5 points, 16.0 rebounds, and 12.5 assists per game while combining to shoot 45-of-67 from the field, 9-of-18 from the perimeter, and 18-of-25 from the perimeter.

“We’re starting to find our identity as a team,” said Winslow. “We definitely want to play through Jah and make open shots and just play together.”

As for their teammates, the four have a big fan in captain Quinn Cook.

"All four of them bring a different skill or different thing to the table, and all four of them are very mature," senior guard Quinn Cook said. "They pick up things well, and I can't say enough about them. They're great - all four of them."

And now they’ll get to do it in an environment outside of the friendly confines of Cameron Indoor Stadium. That, plus a strong opponent will provide an interesting commentary on where his young group rates early on this season.

“Michigan State will be terrific,” said Krzyzewski. “They’ll be strong and rebounders, and that setting will be a Final Four setting. That’s where the Final Four is going to be with those four teams. All four of them are potential, with about 20 others, of being a Final Four team. So this will be a great setting for this squad to be in this early.”


- This will be the first meeting between the two coaches since Sweet 16 in 2013, a game won by the Blue Devils. 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.

- Duke defeated Michigan State, 74-69, in the inaugural Champions Classic in New York's Madison Square Garden. Mike Krzyzewski became the winningest coach in Division I basketball history with the victory.

- Through four games (two exhibition and two regular season) the Blue Devils have yet to find a player scoring 20 or more points.

- Both Duke and Michigan State are 2-1 in the Champions Classic’s three year history while Kentucky and Kansas are both 1-2.

- Mike Krzyzewski (Army, '69) is the winningest coach in the history of Division I basketball with a 985-306 (.763) overall record in 40 seasons, including 912-247 (.787) in 35 seasons at Duke. Krzyzewski is one of only three coaches in NCAA history to win at least four National Championships (1991, 1992, 2001, 2010). His 11 Final Four appearances are tied for second most all-time. He has won 13 ACC Tournament Championships and 12 regular-season ACC titles.

- The game against Duke is just part of another Izzo grinder of an early season schedule as the Spartans play six of the fist eight games on the road or at neutral sites. Over Thanksgiving, the Spartans will play three games in the Orlando Classic, and close the stretch with a game at Notre Dame during the first week of December.

As if venue wasn’t enough, the Spartans will also face quality opponents, facing off against top five teams Duke and Wisconsin with the possibility of a game against Kansas in Orlando.


"It's a great team, big stage and anytime you're playing a top-five team in the nation you can't complain at all. I think it's an opportunity for everybody to see how good we really can be." - Travis Trice

“We got a little bit better, and guys are getting more accustomed to each other. And now we have to do that against bigger-time competition. And I don’t know what that means. We’ll see what the results will be.” - Mike Krzyzewski on the first two games


The Blue Devils have the talent advantage just as they have for the first two regular season games against Presbyterian and Fairfield. Against the Spartans, however, the gap isn’t quite as large and the Spartans come into the game with a proud tradition and Hall of Fame coach. They know they are the underdog, but it’s a role the team relishes. Look for the Spartans to attempt to rattle Jones at the point guard slot and to be physical with Okafor in the middle. MSU will likely keep it close throughout the first half, but eventually the Duke depth and offensive fire power should be able to create some separation, leaving the pick as…

DUKE - 82
Michigan State-69

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