Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State basketball's opponent.
After finishing fifth in the Maui Invitational last week, the No. 11 Spartans (5-2) have returned back to East Lansing to host No. 10 Duke (7-1) on Dec. 3 (9:30 p.m. EST, ESPN) in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Duke leads the all-time series against the Spartans 12-3, however the Spartans secured a win against the Blue Devils in their last meeting during the NCAA tournament Elite Eight in 2019.
This week The State News talked to The Chronicle men's basketball beat reporter Glen Morgenstern to get an insider's perspective on players to watch for from the Duke Blue Devils, as well as an analysis on their season to date.
Q: As Duke’s first true road game, and one that promises a large show-out at the Breslin Center, how will the team adjust their game plan? Are there any concerns the team has?
A: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has not found a tried-and-true “game plan” so far this year—frankly, I don’t think he plans on finding one. He has used at least five different starting lineups, and that’s a low estimate. The Blue Devils are a much deeper team than the Zion and R.J. show that ran all of last year, so look for Krzyzewski to throw fresh bodies at the Spartans at a much higher rate than he did in last season’s Elite Eight matchup.
Krzyzewski might be worrying about losing to Tom Izzo twice in a row, losing another star freshman or countless other potential hazards. His hair is still dark, but his many facial wrinkles didn’t get there by accident.
Q: One of the best matchups of the game will be watching star point guards Tre Jones and Cassius Winston take the court. How does Jones lead the Blue Devils? What do you expect to see watching these two play on the same court?
A: Tre Jones starts all the good fires and puts out all the bad ones for Duke. He has had to put a cap on the defensive ferocity that made him into the NCAA’s best perimeter defender last year, as he now directs every Blue Devil possession. Jones is definitely still growing into the position after playing in the shadow of three future top-10 draft picks last season, but he has expanded his offensive arsenal significantly. He now boasts a workable deep ball, hitting at a 30-percent clip from long range.
Cassius Winston is also a star and a leader in his own right. That makes Tuesday’s point guard matchup a battle of the highest magnitude. Winston had his way with Jones in the NCAA tournament, and it must be noted that the floor slaps that tend to power up Duke’s defense probably won’t work in the Breslin Center.
Q: With Cassius Stanley out, Duke loses a player who averages 12.9 points per game and drains 47.4% of his 3-point attempts. How will the Blue Devils adjust? Who do you see as stepping up in his role? Who should the Spartans watch out for?
A: Blue Devil freshman Cassius Stanley would have been the obvious phonetic foil to Cassius Winston, but perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. Before Stanley fell victim to a hamstring injury Friday, he brought the house down with rim-rockers rivaling Zion Williamson’s. (He even broke Zion’s vertical leap record.) There isn’t a player with Stanley’s pure athleticism on the roster, but Duke might play sophomore sharpshooter Joey Baker, who notched a career-high 16 points Friday. Baker is always an X-factor—if he doesn’t have to dribble.
Q: Duke comes off of a recent upset to Stephen F. Austin similar to how Michigan State comes off of an upset to Virginia Tech. What hurt Duke in that upset and what have they learned since then? How do you think the drive of these two teams will be different, fresh off of upsets and dropping their rankings the AP poll?
A: That eerie similarity makes Tuesday’s game so watchable. Both teams are experiencing some growing pains, and that’s just dandy. Krzyzewski and Izzo are too old and wise to put too much stake in the AP poll. They understand it’s a long season, and the circumstances they face now will probably change come March.
That doesn’t mean that the Spartans and the Blue Devils won’t give each other 40 minutes of hell, though. Michigan State loves winning on its home floor, and Duke has shone in its road games (admittedly, all at Madison Square Garden) this season.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: One big piece for the Blue Devils I haven’t mentioned yet is 6-foot-10 freshman center Vernon Carey Jr. He’s a heavy-hitter that no player has found an answer for. If he stays out of foul trouble, Carey will stack the odds in Duke’s favor. Not even Cassius Winston can overcome the dominance a big like Carey brings to the court.
But it’s going to be close, and it might not be the last time these two teams meet. If so, I’m looking forward to another edition of ‘Know Thy Enemy’ with some history in the books.
Duke 71, Michigan State 67.