After beating Davidson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State is set for a highly anticipated second-round matchup against Duke.
The Spartans eked out a manic 74-73 win over the Wildcats thanks to a career-high 27 points and “complete” performance from redshirt senior forward Joey Hauser. Now, it’s onto the second round for the first time since 2019, one that’s brought a level of excitement to Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo as his favorite season continues.
“That's kind of what you live for in this job,” he said. “We're excited to be here. We understand the task at hand, and yet we're looking forward to the challenge.”
Scouting the opponent
It’s impossible to mention Duke this year without mentioning their Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski. After a Division I all-time record of 1,199 wins and 42 seasons at the helm of one of the most successful programs in college basketball, this NCAA Tournament appearance will be his last after he announced his intentions to retire in the preseason and pass the torch along to Assistant Coach Jon Scheyer.
With that in mind, Michigan State is onto yet another enticing storyline centered around the last chapter of a rivalry between two of the most venerated coaches in college basketball. Izzo holds a 3-14 record against Krzyzewski (“it hasn’t been the smoothest rivalry,” he said) but he’s won his last two against Duke, including a thrilling 68-67 victory in the 2019 NCAA Tournament that secured Izzo’s eighth Final Four appearance.
In light of the situation, junior forward Wendell Moore Jr. admitted to feeling and embracing some of the pressure that has come with Krzyzewski's final ride. Freshman guard Max Christie, a former Duke recruit and a newcomer to the rivalry, said Michigan State won’t be feeling any of that pressure on the other side of the scorer’s table.
“I don't think any of us are burdened by anything,” he said. ”The Duke guys might feel burdened that it's Coach K's last whatever they do. For us, we're just going out there to win the game.”
As for the elusive possibility of ending Krzyzewski’s career? Sophomore guard A.J. Hoggard noted the team has given it some thought without letting the narrative get out of hand.
“That's definitely part of what goes into our head, but that's not the focus,” Hoggard said. “The focus is to go out and do what we need to do to get the win. That's the story line that's going on with the game right now. We're not really focusing on that. We're focusing on us.”
In regards to the basketball itself, Duke has a myriad of young talent but retains some imposing veterans that have made them one of the more dangerous teams in the country. Freshman forward and likely lottery pick freshman forward Paolo Banchero served as their headliner in a debut season that saw him average 17 points and 7.9 rebounds per game on his way to Second Team All-American and ACC Rookie of the Year.
Izzo and players alike noted the importance of having “six eyes” on Banchero at all times to effectively guard one of the most versatile players in the country.
“He can beat you from a three, he can beat you off the dribble, he can beat you in the post,” Izzo said of Banchero. “He's kind of a three-dimensional player.”
Banchero is complemented by Moore (13.5 points per game), freshman forward A.J. Griffin (10.4 points per game), and sophomore center Mark Williams (11.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game) in a talented frontcourt that has powered expectations for the Blue Devils. At 7’0 and 242 pounds, Williams marks another massive test for Michigan State’s bigs, one that senior center Marcus Bingham Jr. said he’s looking forward to.
In the backcourt, sophomore guard Jeremy Roach (8.3 points per game) runs the point while freshman guard Trevor Keels (11.7 points per game) logs the vast majority of his minutes at the two. All of it adds up to what senior forward Gabe Brown said will likely be a physical game that requires Michigan State to defend far differently than they did against Davidson, notably in terms of the post and three-point line.
It also marks what could be the last time Izzo and Krzyzewski will face off against each other. With 151 combined NCAA Tournament victories between the two, Izzo said he knows both will be vying for only one thing come Sunday afternoon.
“For 40 minutes, I'll bet you Mike wants to beat the hell out of me, and I bet you I want to beat the hell out of him,” Izzo said. “And what happens after, only time will tell.”
Michigan State tips off against Duke at 5:15 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
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