Dream no more.
Izzo's MSU Spartans will host coach Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils tonight at 9:00pm EST as the higher rated of the two teams and the favorite to win tonight's marquee matchup that will be televised nationally by ESPN.
Now Duke, like Michigan State has taken the attitude that playing tough games earlier can pay dividends later when tournament time rolls around. "For us to play at Michigan State ... will be a great game for us," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "That's how you get better."
While both coaches want to see their team's play improve, Izzo has been particularly disappointed at what he perceives as his team's lack of toughness.
"Right now, I'm a little disappointed with the toughness of our team. We haven't rebounded -- we don't have the size that maybe we've had in the past -- and yet we've got some inside guys who have got to step up a little bit. At times we've looked pretty good, and at times we've looked very average."
On the other hand, Krzyzewski knows his team can put up points in a hurry, but he feels his team is lacking defensively.
"We're a team that can score points, I can tell you that," Krzyzewski said. "We just have to be able to defend."
Duke guard Daniel Ewing said the lack of defense has hurt the team on offense. "Right now, the struggles are part of the growing process; we have to find a way to win when things aren't going well on offense," he said. "We have to be able to play great defense and try to create off of our defense, and we just haven't put together two halves of a basketball game yet. We have to get back to playing Duke basketball."
Despite all the 'woe is me' talk coming from both sides, neither team has ever lost in the annual Big Ten/ACC challenge and tonight's matchup marks the first time the Spartans and the Blue Devils have met on either school's campus, but that all changes starting this season.
The two schools are working on a multi-year agreement to play each other over the next few seasons.
The outcome of tonight's contest could end up being decided by each team's backcourt play. MSU has gotten a lift from super freshman Shannon Brown of Chicago. Brown's energy and speed has sparked the Spartans to a pair of wins en-route to their 3-1 record.
Brown has no fear of Duke or its reputation. "They put on their pants just like we do," said Brown, who turned down Duke to sign with Michigan State. "I would say it's a respect factor. They respect us, and we respect them as a team." Chris Hill (12.3), Kelvin Torbert (11.0), Alan Anderson (10.3) and Shannon Brown (10.0) round out the MSU's backcourt.
While Duke is also sporting a 3-1 record they are not shooting the basketball particularly well coming into tonight's contest with just a 41.9% mark from the field and just 33.7% from three point range.
Ewing says the Blue Devils are not playing as a team. "When we go out on the court, our mindset has been to try to do things on our own," Ewing said. "It's not something we do maliciously, but by just trying to be the best players that we can be we kind of go off on our own, and that hurts what we're trying to execute on both ends of the court...If we'll just do this thing together, I think we'll see some better results."
Duke will match 6-8 freshman forward Luol Deng (16.8), one of the top players in the nation against MSU sophomore forward Paul Davis, who has been somewhat disappointing to date averging 13.0 points per game. Ewing (12.3), J. J. Redick(13.5) and Chris Duho (8.0) make up the Duke backcourt while sophomore forward Shelden Williams (11.3) rounds out the starting five.
The game no doubt is more significant for the Spartans who have never beaten the Blue Devils and with tonight's matchup at the Breslin Center Izzo is putting the emphasis, not just on competing with Duke, but beating them.
"I think our program is to the point now where if we don't win, I'm not looking at it as anything good," Izzo said. "We've got to find a way to win. We're at home. It should be an incredible setting. Five years ago, I would've said it was a win-win. Today, it's not."