It has been a couple of years since the Duke Basketball team has been to the Sweet 16 and now that they are back they will be greeted by a familiar foe.
The Blue Devils will meet the No. 4 seed in the Midwest bracket, Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo. This isn’t the first time these two vaunted coaches and programs have met in the post season. The most recent meeting was last season when Duke beat Michigan State at Madison Square Garden in what was Mike Krzyzewski’s record breaking victory surpassing his mentor Bob Knight as the all-time leading Division I men’s basketball history.
Krzyzewski and Izzo have met 7 times with Coach K getting the better of the meetings six times. The lone victory for Izzo came, appropriately in the Sweet 16 back in 2005 when Duke was the No. 1 seed in the Austin Region and Michigan State was the No. 5 seed.
That loss was seen as a bit of an upset but when the two take the floor this Friday in Indianapolis, a place that has seen Duke win two National Titles, most wouldn’t be shocked to see the No. 3 seeded Spartans beat the No. 2 seeded Blue Devils.
National prognosticators and even some Duke faithful have their doubts in Duke who seems a bit removed from the dominant looking team they were back in November and December of this season. The loss of Ryan Kelly changed the dynamic and confidence of the team and even though he is back, aside from his performance against Miami in his return, he hasn’t been the same player.
And aside from Duke’s dominant performance against North Carolina two weeks ago they’ve struggled a bit being knocked out in the first round of the ACC Tournament and not looking nearly as dominant as some other No. 2 seeds in the tournament at times.
Part of that has been the struggles of Kelly who hasn’t been playing well. He only scored 1 point in Duke’s victory over Creighton. Defensively the Blue Devil have struggled and they have been anemic on the glass, a place that Tom Izzo’s Michigan Sate teams have been dominant at.
That dominance is due in part to the physical nature of Michigan State which is in part a by product of their coach and their conference. The BIG 10 is known for physical play and Duke will have to be prepared for that.
Duke has struggled at times with teams who play a physical brand of basketball, and their inexperience in the front court nearly cost them against Creighton, when foul trouble limited Mason Plumlee, Kelly and Josh Hairston.
Michigan State will hit the boards hard and their physical and aggressive play could hurt the Blue Devils who haven’t been as good on the glass. And as is often the case with the Spartans, they are peaking during the Tournament, where as many are wondering if Duke has already peaked.
The Blue Devils clearly have not played their best basketball so far in this tournament and if they continue to struggle against a hot Michigan State squad then their stay in the tournament will be short lived.
Duke has struggled recently in the Sweet 16, but tends to do well in the Elite 8, but there are never guarantees. And just because Krzyzewski has essentially dominated the head to head match up with Izzo, means nothing. The Blue Devils have been good enough to win their first two games but they have to step up their level of play because good enough isn’t going to cut it against Michigan State.
There is a week to rest and prepare and you can rest assured that both coaches are preparing their team for what should be a battle. Then again, with these two teams could you really expect anything different?
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