Michigan State vs. Duke: Who has the edge, plus Matt Charboneau's prediction
The Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau breaks down Sunday’s Michigan State-Duke NCAA Tournament regional final game at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. (5:05 p.m., CBS/760).
The Blue Devils don’t have what would be described as a traditional backcourt, as only point guard Tre Jones would be classified as a guard. But Jones has had an outstanding freshman season running the offense for the Blue Devils and is picking things up when it matters most. He scored 44 in three ACC tournament games, including a then career-high 18 in the championship game victory over Florida State while shooting 8-for-14 and handing out six assists. He wasn’t quite as productive in the first two NCAA Tournament games, but Jones was the catalyst in Duke’s Sweet 16 win over Virginia Tech. A 23-percent 3-point shooter, Jones was 5-for-7 from long range and finished with 22. He’s also a tenacious defender and will surely make things difficult for Michigan State’s Cassius Winston.
Winston was typical Winston in the win over LSU in the Sweet 16, scoring 17 and dishing out eight assists. He was bothered by LSU’s Tremont Waters at times but used his sense of the game to find open spaces and take advantage of the aggressive Tigers defense. Matt McQuaid got in foul trouble against LSU and didn’t score until late, but his six straight points inside two minutes, coupled with his defense, proved his value once again. The big story in Michigan State’s backcourt has been freshman Aaron Henry. He was all over the floor against LSU and scored a career-high 20 points. He’ll be challenged in this game on both ends but will be critical defensively as he could see time on Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett or Cam Reddish, if Reddish plays.
Edge: Michigan State
It’s impossible to avoid. The Blue Devils are loaded up front, even if Reddish is unable to play. The 6-8 freshman sat out the Virginia Tech game because of a sore knee and his status for Sunday is unclear. Even if Reddish is out, Duke has the luxury of two more likely NBA lottery picks in Williamson and Barrett. The 6-7, 285-pound Williamson has been a beast all season. He scored 32 last week in the win over UCF and had 23 against Virginia Tech. He’s a matchup problem for every team Duke has faced and will be again when facing the Spartans. Barrett has been nearly as unstoppable. He had 18 points and 11 assists in the Virginia Tech game and his offensive rebound and putback was the difference in the UCF victory. If Reddish is out, expect junior Javin DeLaurier to start. At 6-10, he takes up space and can be a rim protector on defense.
It likely will be a long night for Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins. They’re not overmatched in the size category, but the athleticism is something that will test the Michigan State big men. Both have been consistent offensively, though Goins has continued to be a little more uncertain from 3-point range, even after hitting two in the second half Friday. The key for the duo is how they match up with the Blue Devils. Tillman probably will get the first crack at Williamson, though expect Goins to have some time there, too, in addition to Aaron Henry. They’ll also need a rebounding performance like the one against LSU as Duke is averaging better than 13 offensive rebounds a game.
Neither team is terribly deep, but injuries have forced both to start looking for other options. Duke might not have Reddish and are likely to miss forward Jack White, who has missed the last three games with a hamstring injury. The Blue Devils have gotten 6-11 Marques Bolden back. He played sparingly in the last two games after coming back from a knee injury and played almost 20 minutes against Virginia Tech. He has starting experience and takes up plenty of space in the middle, collecting a pair of blocks Friday. If Reddish is out, expect sophomore Alex O’Connell to get a second straight start. He played 35 minutes against Virginia Tech and can hit 3-pointers, even though he was 0-for-4 on Friday.
Michigan State got a scare Friday when 6-9 center Nick Ward banged his surgically repaired left hand on the ground in the second half. But X-rays were negative, and Ward said he expects to play. He could be a key matchup in defending the post and keeping the Blue Devils off the glass. Freshman Gabe Brown was the other key off the bench for the Spartans as he had a career-high 15 points against LSU along with making a career-best four 3-pointers. There could be spot minutes for guard Foster Loyer or forward Thomas Kithier, but don’t expect too much from either.
This is the matchup that everyone was expecting when the brackets were drawn and as the NCAA Tournament has progressed, Duke has gone from invincible to vulnerable. The Blue Devils aren’t a great shooting team and the Spartans have one of the best two-point defense in the nation. If Michigan State continues to shoot the ball the way they have all season, it could have what it takes to beat Duke for the first time since the 2005 Sweet 16, Tom Izzo’s only victory over Mike Krzyzewski.
Michigan State 82, Duke 78