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Monday, October 20, 2014 | Last updated: 5:16pm


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Elite Effort: How MSU can Advance


Five keys and five storylines to follow for a Spartan victory




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Junior guard Keith Appling takes a shot during an open practice Thursday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind. The Spartans will play the Duke Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 at 9:45 p.m. Friday. Adam Toolin/The State News



Check out five keys and five storylines for MSU to beat Duke and head to the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight.

Five storylines
1) Appling battling injury
Junior guard Keith Appling is dealing with knee tendinitis and a re-aggravated shoulder injury heading into MSU’s biggest game of the season, forcing him to wear a shoulder brace this week in practice.

The health and effectiveness of the Spartans’ floor general on both ends of the floor could determine whether MSU advances to the Elite Eight.

2) Izzo vs. Krzyzewski
Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup features two of the most successful coaches in NCAA Tournament history, with MSU’s Tom Izzo and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski both ranking among the top five in tournament-winning percentage among active coaches.

Izzo’s Spartans and Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils are the only two programs to make 11 or more Sweet 16 appearances in the past 16 seasons.

3) Dawson and Harris return home
Freshman guard Gary Harris and sophomore guard/forward Branden Dawson both have made highly publicized returns to their home state of Indiana this season, and they’re set to do it again tonight.

Both players have fed off the energy of playing near their hometowns, producing some of their best performances of the season on Hoosier soil.

4) One final run for Nix
Derrick Nix has played with a heightened focus and intensity in recent weeks, determined to cap off his MSU career in signature fashion.

The Spartans’ lone senior is averaging 18 points and 11.5 rebounds in the NCAA Tournament, and is on a mission to bookend his Spartan tenure with another Final Four.

5) Fond memories of Indy
Indianapolis has been a good place for the Spartans in the NCAA Tournament, as MSU has won more games in this city than any other.

The Spartans are 7-1 in Indianapolis during the NCAA Tournament, including winning Izzo’s only national championship in this city, and the only loss coming in the 2010 Final Four.

Five Keys

1) Defending the 3-point shot
Duke’s offense is based around the 3-point shot, with four of the Blue Devils’ five starters shooting 39 percent or better from beyond the arc.

MSU will need strong communication defensively to get through screens and get out to contest jump shooters to be successful Friday night.

2) Reducing sloppy play
Although MSU cruised through its first two games of the NCAA Tournament, it wasn’t without its share of sloppy play.

The Spartans committed 35 turnovers in the two games combined, many of which were unforced, and it will be tough for MSU to advance if that trend continues.

3) Taking advantage of size inside
MSU has a significant strength advantage inside that they must exploit to knock off the Blue Devils.

Nix is 35 pounds heavier than Duke forward Mason Plumlee, and Dawson is 45 pounds heavier than Duke guard Rasheed Sulaimon, which should help the Spartans control the boards and get easy baskets inside.

4) Limiting dribble penetration
Duke has a number of quick guards who are able to get inside and break down a defense, making plays both for themselves and others.

When the Blue Devils get inside, it collapses the defense and creates opportunities for their outside shooters, so the Spartans need to keep Duke out of the lane.

5) Foul trouble
Both teams have dealt with foul trouble in recent weeks, and since both have limited depth, the team that can keep the majority of its starting five on the floor will have a significant edge.

The Spartans survived foul trouble for Gary Harris in their previous game against Memphis and the Blue Devils overcame foul trouble for Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee in a victory against Creighton, but neither team can afford for that to happen again.


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