Krzyzewski, Izzo prepare for first NCAA Tournament meeting since ’12

Will Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils end Sparty's run? Photo Courtesy: D. Myles Cullen
Will Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils end Sparty’s run? Photo Courtesy: D. Myles Cullen

By Alex Gustafson

Game Info
Michigan State Spartans (7) vs. Duke Blue Devils (1)
Saturday – April 4 – 5:09 CST
Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis

After losing in the second round to Mercer last year, the Blue Devils (33-4) are in their first Final Four since 2010 when they won the national title.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski is appearing his 12th Final Four and seeking his fifth national championship. Coach K, as he is fondly called by the media and the Duke fan base is 8-and-1 in his career against his counterpart at Michigan State, Tom Izzo, but only 2-and-1 in the NCAA Tournament.

Duke is led by the freshman trio of Tyus Jones (11.5 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.8 rpg, 48 field goal percentage, 93 free throw percentage), Justise Winslow (15.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 51 field goal percentage, 81 percent free throw percentage), and Jahlil Okafor (15.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 65 field goal percentage, 50 free throw percentage). While these players are the offensive leaders during the Duke’s tournament run, senior Quinn Cook (14.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg, 36 field goal percentage, 85 free throw percentage), junior forward Amile Jefferson (7.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 60 field goal percentage) and junior center Marshall Plumlee (5.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 80 field goal percentage) are veterans who have provided NCAA tournament experience for an otherwise young team (five of eight players on their roster are underclassmen).

The Spartans’ run should not be considered a ‘Cinderella’. Yes, they lost in the B1G Ten Championship Game to fellow Final Four participant Wisconsin, but MSU (27-11) always seems to make a deep tournament run under Tom Izzo, who is in his 7th Final Four and seeking his second national championship. The team’s 60-54 win over the No. 2 seeded Virginia Cavaliers is the game that jump started the team’s tournament run.

The team won their four tournament games by an average of 4.3 points. The team is led by the trio of guard/forward Branden Dawson (11.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 47 field goal percentage), Travis Trice (19.8 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.3 rpg, 42 field goal percentage, 89 free throw percentage), and Denzel Valentine (13.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.3 spg, 38 field goal percentage, 90 free throw percentage).

I see the Spartans’ lack of bench production during the tournament outside of Bryn Forbes (9.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 50 field goal percentage) and Gavin Schilling (6.o ppg, 2.3 rpg, 67 field goal percentage, 60 free throw percentage) as their possible downfall this weekend.

I see Duke ending Michigan State’s tournament run behind the play of Okafor, Winslow and Tyus Jones and the leadership of Cook, Jefferson and Plumlee.