The Spartans have the advantage in depth but they'll have to play solid defense on the perimeter, something they did not do in the earlier matchup against the Blue Devils in Durham. Duke won the game 81-74.
FORWARDS: Michigan State's Paul Davis is clearly the best player in the front court for either side. At 6-foot-11, the junior has the ability to shoot the 12-footer and take it inside. Recently he's shown more heart than ever before and a willingness to mix it up against tough defenders. There can be no more cramps or 'eyes closed' shots inside. Davis has to win this battle for MSU to have a shot.
Shelden Williams of Duke has gotten off in the past in this matchup but Matt Trannon and Davis combined to put the clamps on his in the last matchup (12 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks). They must do an even better job and keep him and Shavlik Randolph in single figures. Drew Naymick gives Davis a solid defensive blow and Alan Anderson usually plays solid steady ball in big games.
ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN STATE
GUARDS: J.J. Redick and Daniel Ewing combined to score 29 points each and combined on 11-for-16 shooting from three point range. "Daniel and J.J. made some tough shots," said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. "We didn't get much inside, and I'd like to have a better balance. I'd like for them [Ewing and Redick] to do the same thing, but it's not going to happen."
Many of those shots were uncontested. That cannot happen again.
Michigan State must tighten up defensively on the perimeter and not commit silly fouls (both Hill and Neitzel committed two first half fouls in the earlier game).
Chris Hill has lost his shot, can he find it in this big matchup? That would be a huge lift for MSU but currently Maurice Ager is MSU's top perimeter player. Shannon Brown is a slasher supreme on the break, while Drew Neitzel's play is the "X" factor in this matchup.
BENCH: Michigan State enjoys a solid advantage in this matchup. With Shannon Brown, Drew Naymick, Drew Neitzel, senior Tim Bograkos and Matt Trannon all playing solid roles, MSU hopes to wear down the Blue Devils by running like crazy without turning the ball over. MSU committed just nine turnovers in the win over Vermont. Duke only got five points from forwards Lee Melchionni and David McClure, but guard Sean Dockery got three steals in limited action. Still, in the first matchup down the stretch the Blue Devils guards were so tired their shots were barely drawing iron. ADVANTAGE: MICHIGAN STATE
INTANGIBLES: When it comes to winning close games, Duke has no equal. They seem to make every play down the stretch and have a champion's heart. But if they are vulnerable in the NCAA tournament, it is in the Sweet Sixteen. Duke has lost three times in the past five years in the round of sixteen and MSU could pick no better time to face Duke than now. Still, MSU has problems of its own. They've had trouble winning close games down the stretch and have only beaten one ranked opponent all season. MSU's senior class is playing for that 'one shining moment' that has eluded them their entire careers. ADVANTAGE: DUKE
COACHING: As great as Michigan State's Tom Izzo is, he still isn't Krzyzewski. In his 25 seasons at Duke, he has three national championships, 10 Final Four appearances, 10 ACC Championships and has gone to eight straight Sweet Sixteen appearances. Krzyzewski consistently gets the most from his players and they somehow take on his personality on the floor, a tough, scrappy, heady and clutch performer.
"Duke is a team [that] really makes plays, and they're one of the mentally toughest teams. Mike drives them, too. With Duke, it's like a champion's mentality and it's passed on down from class to class. They have pride and tradition, and their guys seem to know Duke is supposed to play hard and win."
Izzo is no slouch, but he has a way to go before he can be mentioned in the same sentence as Krzyzewski. He's in the paragraph for sure, but not the sentence. However, a win here could begin tilting things in Izzo's favor. ADVANTAGE: DUKE
PICK: Michigan State can and should win here. They have more players who can contribute than Duke has, but Duke has difference makers. Still, if Michigan State plays solid defense and is able to rebound and run, they will win this game. Duke needs to shoot the lights out, force turnovers and hope that MSU gets shaky down the stretch.
MICHIGAN STATE 75, DUKE 70