Sunday, August 9, 2020

PREVIEW: Izzo to 'figure out a way' to stop Duke, Zion Williamson

March 30, 2019
Freshman forward Gabe Brown (13) shoots the ball during the game against LSU at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Tigers, 80-63.
Freshman forward Gabe Brown (13) shoots the ball during the game against LSU at Capital One Arena on March 29, 2019. The Spartans defeated the Tigers, 80-63. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Who: No. 1 Duke (32-5) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (31-6).

When: Sunday at 5:05 p.m. EST.

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington D.C.

TV: CBS

Radio: 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing) or Spartan Sports Network.

Line: Duke -2

Injuries: Joshua Langford (left foot - out), Kyle Ahrens (left ankle - out), Nick Ward (left hand - probable), Cam Reddish (left knee - questionable)


WASHINGTON — Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was asked Friday if he's ever seen a player like Duke's Zion Williamson.

In an ideal world, Izzo said he'd use an NFL player to guard the 6-foot-7 freshman forward, the Blue Devils' second-leading scorer at 22.6 points — to go with 8.7 rebounds and 2.1 steals — is behind only fellow freshman forward RJ Barrett at 22.7 points.

"He's got the most incredible first step," Izzo said of Williamson. "That's why he's getting all those steals. He can take one dribble and cover more space than most human beings that I know can do. And so then he has the strength to finish at the end. So he's not Superman, but he's damn close."

As far as a kryptonite for Williamson, Izzo wouldn't say if he had an answer.

"We're just going to have to figure out a way," Izzo said. "And I think most people have that great players usually take more than one person to cover them. The problem is they have some other weapons."

Izzo is 1-11 all-time against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, with the lone win coming in the 2005 Sweet 16 and are 0-7 since that matchup.

But according to Krzyzewski, the winningest collegiate coach ever with 1,132 victories, said records don't matter. It's all about what teams are doing now.

"I'm too old to be nervous," he said. "And I remember nervous. But no, I'm not a big believer in coaches' records against one another. It's not like you have the same team, the same circumstance."

Of MSU's options to guard Williamson, forwards Xavier Tillman and Kenny Goins or, in a pinch, Nick Ward could be the likely options inside the post. Freshman wing Aaron Henry — who scored a career-high 20 points in the Spartans' Sweet 16 win over LSU on Friday — could also be on the standout.

But no matter who's guarding Williamson, he said the Spartans present a unique challenge. And his focus is for the Blue Devils to limit MSU point guard, and consensus Big Ten Player of the Year, Cassius Winston.

"Michigan State is Michigan State," Williamson said. "They’re their own unique team with a great guard. Winston is the leader of that team. We got a big assignment ahead of us."

Winston is MSU's leading scorer at 18.8 points per game, and ranks third nationally with 279 assists. But despite all the hype around Williamson, Winston said he thinks Duke is beatable if MSU sticks to its game plan.

"I trust us," Winston said. "I trust our defense, I trust our coaches with the game plan and what we've been doing all year. We're going to be prepared. By the time the ball tips off, we're going to have the best game plan and be ready to go."

Predictions

Casey Harrison: Duke 76, MSU 75

Chase Michaelson: Duke 83, MSU 78

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