Can MSU get past the Duke mystique?

Can the Spartans move onto the Elite Eight for the second time in three seasons? Arch-nemesis Duke led by hot shooting<b> J.J. Redick</b> (shown here defended by <b>Kelvin Torbert</b>) stand in their way. Check out the biggest, most in-depth preview anywhere - complete with key matchups, possible strategeies, role players to watch and Doug Warren's final score when you <I>Get Inside</I>.

THE MATCHUP: No. 5 Michigan State (24-6) vs. No. 1 Duke (27-5)

DATE: Friday March 25, 2005 – Austin, TX – 7:10 PM EST – Frank Erwin Center (16,383)

TIME: 7:10 p.m. EST - CBS TV – Jim Nantz (Play by Play), Billy Packer (color), Bonnie Bernstein (sideline)

GAME NOTES: No. 5 seed Michigan State (24-6, 13-3 Big Ten) and No. 1 seed Duke (27-5, 11-5 ACC) will meet for the second time this season when they square off in the Sweet 16 in the Austin Regional. In the first meeting, Michigan State hung tight with Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, pulling within a single point in the final minutes, only to be done in by free-throw shooting. The Spartan/Blue Devil winner will face the Utah/Kentucky winner on Sunday afternoon for the right to advance to the Final Four.

This is MSU's eighth trip to the Sweet 16 since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Michigan State is 4-3 in Sweet 16 games, having won its last four. In its last trip to the Sweet 16, MSU defeated Maryland, 60-58, in San Antonio, Texas, during the 2003 NCAA Tournament. In that contest, Paul Davis scored MSU's final six points, including the game-winning basket with 4.7 seconds remaining.

Duke leads the all-time series vs. the Spartans, 5-1, including an 81-74 triumph on Nov. 30 of this season in Cameron Indoor Stadium as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Included in that six-game total are two Duke NCAA Tournament victories over Michigan State in 1994 (second round) and 1999 (Final Four).

This will mark the fifth time in seven meetings that the game will be contested on a neutral court. Duke and Michigan State have combined for six Final Four appearances in the past eight seasons with each school earning a national championship. The two schools have combined for 446 victories, 14 20-win seasons, seven 30- win seasons, nine conference regular season titles, eight league tournament titles and 11 final AP top 10 rankings since 1997.

DUKE NOTES: In 2005, the Blue Devils are making their 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance and their 21st in the last 22 seasons under Mike Krzyzewski.

Duke has played nine times against teams seeded fifth or higher in this year's NCAA Tournament. Its record in those contests is 7-2.

The Blue Devils advanced to the Austin Regional semifinal game against Michigan State by way of the program's staple under Mike Krzyzewski — defense. Duke limited its two opponents in Charlotte to just 101 points for an average of 50.5 per game.

In addition, Delaware State and Mississippi State shot a collective .342 from the field vs. Duke, including .321 from three-point range. Duke blocked 12 shots, outrebounded both opponents (a +3.0 margin), forced 21 turnovers and registered 13 steals in the two games.

Duke has allowed just one opponent to shoot better than .500 from the field this season (No. 5 Wake Forest on Feb. 20). In 18 of 32 games, opponents have shot less than .400 from the floor against the Blue Devils' defense.

Against current members of the Big Ten Conference, Duke is 55-22 all-time and 10-3 in NCAA Tournament play

KEY MATCHUPS:

Power Forward: MSU's Paul Davis (6'11" 255) versus Duke's Shelden Williams (6'9" 260)

These two big men will be the major components in how well their teams fare Friday night. If either of them gets into foul trouble, it could mean big trouble for their respective team's chances.

Williams was named first team All-ACC and ACC Defensive Player of the Year this season. He is the only player in the nation to rank among the country's top seven in rebounding (11.3-seventh) and blocked shots (3.75-third) as of March 13. His 120 blocks this season, the highest in Duke history (he broke his own record of 111) and his rebounding average (11.3 rpg), is the highest ever by a Duke player under Coach Krzyzewski, and the highest for a Blue Devil since 1974).

A solid player in his own right, Paul Davis has recorded a double-double in five of his last 12 games. Most recently, he scored 11 points and grabbed a career-best 14 rebounds against Vermont. He has recorded seven double-doubles this season and 10 in his career. Over the last 12 games, Davis is averaging 10.6 points and 9.1 rebounds (11.8 ppg and 7.6 rpg for season).

Paul had a big game against the Blue Devils back in November (17 points, 10 rebounds) and has been playing some of his best basketball of late. With the emergence of Maurice Ager, Alan Anderson, and Shannon Brown as scorers this season, Davis has been able to improve his rebounding and defensive production while the Spartans overall offense has remained steady.

Davis has risen to the occasion this season against quality big men like Williams, Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson (33 points and 16 boards in two games) and Ohio State's Terence Dials (11 and 10); expect him to do it again Friday night in Austin.

Shooting Guard: MSU's Maurice Ager (6'5" 195) versus Duke's J.J. Redick (6'4" 200)

This season was a banner year for Duke junior guard J.J. Redick. He became the 11th Blue Devil to garner ACC Player of the Year honors this season. The Roanoke, Va., product leads the ACC in scoring (22.1 ppg), free throw percentage (.937) and three-point field goals per game (3.69). Redick is the first Blue Devil to win the award since Shane Battier in 2001.

Redick has been deadly from behind the arc all season. He went 5-for-9 from downtown against the Spartans in their first meeting this season, and since failing to make a three-pointer at North Carolina State on Jan. 13, Redick has made 81 treys in his last 20 games (4.1 per game).

Redick will get his points for sure, they key for the Spartan guards will be to make sure he has to work for each and every one of them.

Maurice Ager hit for team-high 19 points in last Sunday's victory over Vermont and went for 13 in the Friday night win over Old Dominion. The Spartans will need him to remain aggressive Friday to keep pace with Redick and the high scoring Blue Devil backcourt. Ager ranks second on the team in scoring (13.5 ppg) and third in rebounding (3.7 rpg). His accuracy has improved greatly this season, shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. An aggressive Ager usually means good things for Michigan State's fast break and free throw totals; both of which will be key components for Michigan State's chances of victory.

Point Guard: MSU's Drew Neitzel (6'0" 175) versus Duke's Daniel Ewing (6'3" 180)

The play of the emerging Neitzel may very well become the biggest factor in whether Michigan State moves onto Sunday to face Utah or Kentucky. While Neitzel is a liability at times defensively, there is little question that he provides an energy and playmaking ability that has been largely been missing since the departure of Mateen Cleaves.

Neitzel number one assignment Friday is a monumental one– he must protect the basketball if the Spartans are to have a chance to win. He is clearly the Spartans' best ball handler and if he fails to withstand the throttling defensive pressure that Ewing, Redick and Sean Dockery will bring to the table, the game could be well over by halftime.

Secondly, Neitzel must do his best to not give up open looks on the perimeter to the Duke guards. Daniel Ewing, who is the Blue Devils primary PG (now that junior forward Lee Melchionni replaced Dockery as a starter), has made 26 of his 54 three-point attempts (.481) in 13 NCAA Tournament games in his career. He and Redick both scored 29 points versus the Spartans in Durham back in November. While it is unlikely that both players will shoot that well again Friday, Neitzel, Chris Hill and the rest of the Spartans' guards must extend their defense and contest every shot.

BLUE DEVILS TO WATCH: Forwards Lee Melchionni (6'6" 205) and Guard DeMarcus Nelson (6'3" 195)

Melchionni, a junior, has been an unsung hero for the Blue Devils this season. He has consistently hit big shots to put Duke in position to win games. The latest example was in the opening round of the ACC Tournament when he recorded 16 points, nine rebounds and two assists as Duke defeated Virginia, 76-64. At No. 2 North Carolina on March 6, Melchionni scored 15 points — all in the second half — on five three-pointers.

He has scored at least six points in 14 of his last 20 contests, including a 15-point effort on 5-of-6 shooting (3-for-4 from three-point range) in Duke's 102-92 win vs. No. 5 Wake Forest on Feb. 20.

Freshman DeMarcus Nelson is Duke's sixth-leading scorer with 6.2 points per game. Against No. 2 North Carolina on Feb. 9, Nelson had 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, two rebounds, three assists and a career-best four steals in 29 minutes.

KEYS TO VICTORY:

Duke: Pressure MSU's Guards, Rebound, and Attack the Basket.

Michigan State had 12 turnovers against Duke in the game at Cameroon Indoor earlier this year. The pressure that the Blue Devil guards put on their opponents is immense. Expect Duke to pressure the ball all over the floor, and increase their on-the-ball pressure in the halfcourt. If Neitzel and Hill make any mistakes with the basketball, it will likely end up in Duke points on the other end.

The Blue Devils have a +1.8 rebounding margin over their opponents this season. Sheldon Williams, Shavlik Randolph and Lee Melchionni will have to control the glass on to keep the Spartans (who have a +7.5 rebounding margin) from establishing their fast break and to prevent them from getting easy putback buckets and extra possessions.

On their offensive end, expect Duke to challenge the Spartans by attacking the basket in an attempt to their top two players and rebounders (Paul Davis and Alan Anderson) in foul trouble. If either Davis or Anderson find themselves on the bench nursing fouls Friday night, it would really put the Spartans behind the eight ball on both ends of the floor.

Michigan State: Protect the Basketball, Defend the Perimeter, and Rebound to Run.

If the Spartan point guards fail to withstand Duke's defensive pressure, this game will be over quickly. Drew Neitzel and Chris Hill must manage the Spartan halfcourt sets and fastbreak with care, as any careless turnover will likely result in quick Duke points.

While it is unlikely that J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing will once again combine for 58 points as they did against MSU earlier this season; Michigan State must not allow them to get open looks on the perimeter. They must match Duke's defensive intensity with their own. Otherwise the talented Blue Devil guards could once again silence the Spartans with a barrage of outside marksmanship.

If the Spartans are to do what they do best, which of course is to run their break, they must control the glass. If Michigan State can rebound on the defensive end and get out into transition, it will lessen the pressure on Neitzel and Hill and allow Michigan State to possibly fatigue the Blue Devils and their shorter bench.

The litmus test for Michigan State during the Tom Izzo era is that rebounds equal victories. It was no different this year, as the Spartans were 21-3 this season when they won the battle on the boards. Ironically, one of those three losses came at the hands of the Blue Devils.

PREDICTION: While neither of these teams are vintage by their schools lofty standards, this contest should be another down-to the-wire classic. The key for both teams will be who makes the most mistakes and who does a better job of capitalizing on them.

Mike Krzyzewski (795, 66-17) and Tom Izzo (.778 21-6) own the top two NCAA Tournament winning percentages among active coaches. Izzo has yet to defeat Krzyzewski in a head-to-head matchup, many observers thinks that this is the time it will happen.

I just can help but remember though that, while Duke has won tight games this season against top-ranked competition, the Spartans haven't.

I think this Michigan State team has had a lot of unnecessary garbage heaped on them from the certain members of the media, as well as from some delusional Spartan fans who think that anything less than a 31-0 record at this point is a failure.

I'd love to be wrong here, however, I see the game breaking down along these lines:

Davis versus Williams will be wash.

The Spartans' perimeter defense has been a problem all season and will once again be a problem Friday.

Neitzel and Hill will once again struggle against the defensive pressure of Redick, Ewing and Dockery.

Lastly, there is still the problem of the Big Ten's best free throw shooting team freezing up when the stakes are the highest.

FINAL: Duke 76, Michigan State 75


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