WASHINGTON, D.C. — The top-overall seed Duke Blue Devils spoke Saturday at Capital One Arena before they take on second-seeded Michigan State in the East regional final Sunday evening. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski complimented his fellow Hall of Fame coach Tom Izzo, and freshman sensation Zion Williamson spoke of the challenges of facing Michigan State’s twice-crowned Big Ten championship team.
“I think Tom’s genuine,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s going to tell you what he feels is the truth … I love that. And his passion for the game. He’s one of the best ever, and I’m glad to call him my friend.”
Williamson said MSU does not remind him of any team Duke has faced all season.
“Michigan State is Michigan State,” he said. “They’re their own unique team with a great guard. (Junior point guard Cassius) Winston is the leader of that team. We got a big assignment ahead of us.”
Freshman point guard Tre Jones said Winston has one of the highest IQs of any point guard he has played against.
“I can see from point guard to point guard, the way he is able to control a game,” Jones said. “The reads he is able to make off the defense. He has the ball a ton for their offense. He is able to make a lot of their players a lot better. Not saying that they aren’t really good already, but he is just able to make them a lot better just because of how good of a point guard he is.”
Williamson said he was impressed watching the film of the MSU front line of sophomore forward Xavier Tillman, senior forward Kenny Goins, and junior forward Nick Ward.
“They're very aggressive and physical, and they rebound the ball very well,” Williamson said. “And they have a great motor … so we’re just going to try to do our best to contain them.”
Junior center Marques Bolden concurred with his younger, talented teammate on the challenge of out-rebounding a Spartan team that dominated LSU on the boards Friday night.
“They get a lot of offensive rebounds and second-chance points,” Bolden said. “For us, just getting the rebounds and keeping them off the boards is going to be important.”
Williamson was asked about how Duke will plan for an MSU team that had two freshmen, Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown, post career highs in points against LSU, combining to make six three-point shots.
“You just have to give each player their respect. I don’t know why people do this, but when you disrespect the player, that’s only going to motivate them to do even more," he said. "I think LSU was playing off them and making them shoot the three and they made them pay for it because they’re kind of disrespecting that player. You just have to give every player their respect, and at the same time, you got to hope that your defense can affect them.”
The teams tip off Sunday at 5:05 p.m. EST at Capital One Arena, with the winner advancing to next week’s Final Four in Minneapolis to face the winner of Gonzaga-Texas Tech out of the West region. Duke is listed as a 2-point favorite.