#10 DUKE BLUE DEVILS (Record: 3-0)
STRENGTHS: Outside Shooting, Inside Power, and Defense
Daniel Ewing, J.J. Redick and Sean Dockery make up a perimeter most teams in the nation would covet. The defense will again be strong and with Shelden Williams and Shavlik Randolph in the paint, the Blue Devils may be as good inside as anyone and more suited for a slower pace on offense. Last season, Williams led the ACC with 111 blocks (3.0 per game average) and Randolph was third with 61 rejections.
With the 6-9 Williams and 6-10 Randolph having their backs, Duke defenders can really get after opponents. Dockery (who has 90 steals in 70 career games) and Ewing are in-your-jock defenders who put tremendous pressure on their opponent's ball-handlers. With a weak bench, Duke's defense must carry the team more than ever this season.
WEAKNESSES: A weak bench and questionable point guard play.
Look for the Spartans to run early and often against Duke to try and exploit their lack of depth (they basically play 6-deep). An up-tempo game will also put extra pressure on point guard Sean Dockery, who is replacing the departed All-American Chris Duhan. Dockery is a tremendous perimeter defender, but struggles at times on the offensive end. If the Spartans can make Dockery work on both ends of the floor, it will be to State's advantage. Michigan State will also likely try to attack Redick, the weakest link in Duke's staunch defense, with the athletic guard trio of Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown and Kelvin Torbert.
#9 MICHIGAN STATE (Record: 3-0)
Michigan State Probable Starters
3 Brown, Shannon G/F 6-4 200 SO
5 Hill, Chris G 6-3 190 SR
13 Ager, Maurice G 6-5 195 JR
15 Anderson, Alan F 6-6 220 SR
40 Davis, Paul C 6-11 255 JR
Michigan State Bench
12 Neitzel, Drew G 6-0 170 FR
23 Torbert, Kelvin G 6-4 215 SR
30 Bograkos, Tim G 6-2 195 RS SR
34 Naymick, Drew C 6-10 235 SO
50 Rowley, Delco F 6-8 250 RS SO
STRENGTHS: Depth and Athleticism
The Spartans have an abundance of each. MSU must win the rebounding and turnover battles to be at their best. When they do, they can get out on the fast break and showcase their open court abilities with high flyers Shannon Brown, Alan Anderson, Maurice Ager and Kelvin Torbert. While the Spartans had deficiencies last year on defense and on the glass, they had no problems shooting the ball. The Spartans led the Big Ten in field-goal percentage (52.2), 3-point percentage (43.4), free-throw percentage (77.7) and scoring offense (71.3) in league games. They have continued their scoring parade this season, scoring 100+ points in each of their last three games. They will need every point they can muster if they are to silence the Cameron Crazies Tuesday night.
WEAKNESSES: A tested point guard and inside toughness.
Senior Chris Hill and Freshman Drew Neitzel will once again share the bulk of the PG duties against Duke. They will face the ultimate test versus Duke's Daniel Ewing and Sean Dockery, who are two of the best on-the ball-defenders in the nation. If Hill and Neitzel can hold their own and avoid costly turnovers, the Spartans will overcome a major concern.
In 2003-04, Michigan State finished eighth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin and eighth in field goal percentage defense (45.6 percent). Many times last year for the Spartans, it seemed as if it was Paul Davis versus the world in the paint. This year, MSU expects to give Davis more help by increasing the minutes for Delco Rowley and Drew Namick. Each young man will face the biggest test of his young career Tuesday night. If Rowley and Namick can contribute on the glass and defensively against Williams and Randolph, it will take pressure off Davis and give MSU a better chance of victory.
Defensively, expect Duke to pressure the Spartans with full court pressure to try and create turnovers and easy buckets. Offensively, the Blue Devils will want to slow things down and pound the ball inside to Williams and Randolph to attempt to get Paul Davis in early foul trouble as well as to kick it out for open looks on the perimeter to Redick, Ewing and Dockery.
SPARTAN KEYS TO VICTORY:
If MSU can control the boards, especially on the defensive side so to get an opportunity to get their fast break clicking, then they have a chance to avenge last season's humiliation in East Lansing. Conversely, if they allow Duke to control the paint, slow the tempo, and move the game into a possession-by-possession slugfest, with Ewing and Dockery pressuring Hill and Neitzel while Williams and Randolph pound Davis and the inexperienced Rowley and Naymick, then it's advantage Blue Devils.