Wednesday, April 17, 2024

No. 18 Michigan State men's basketball to meet No. 9 Duke in annual Champions Classic

November 13, 2023
<p>Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach (3) defends against junior guard Tyson Walker (2) during Duke&#x27;s victory over Michigan State on March 20, 2022.</p>

Sophomore guard Jeremy Roach (3) defends against junior guard Tyson Walker (2) during Duke's victory over Michigan State on March 20, 2022.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

Heading into a battle with Duke on Tuesday in the annual State Farm Champions Classic, Michigan State men's basketball isn't where everyone thought it'd be to begin the 2023-2024 season.

But neither are the Blue Devils. 

MSU and Duke both sit at 1-1, with MSU being upset by the now-ranked, 3-0 James Madison Dukes last Monday and the Blue Devils falling 78-73 at home to Arizona Friday night. 

Duke fell from No. 2 to No. 9 in the AP Top 25, while the Spartans plummeted from No. 4 to No. 18.

A game advertised as a top-5 matchup in the preseason, Tuesday's bout between top-notch programs now offers either side a chance to get back on track. For the Spartans, who have shot 2-for-31 from behind the arc over its first two games, that looks like more efficient shooting from deep. 

However, MSU's shooting woes are not head coach Tom Izzo’'s primary concern. Against two physically inferior opponents, the Spartans struggled to hold their own on the glass. 

"We're just going to have to shoot the ball better. Big surprise," Izzo said at his Monday press conference. "We've shot it well this week, but that's not all I'm looking at. I'm looking at, can we rebound the ball better."

Offensive production should not be an issue for MSU this season. The Spartans returned three-quarters of their scoring from a year ago and added a top-shelf freshmen class. 

It's apparent that in order to reach its ceiling, MSU needs the most out of its veterans. 

Against James Madison, senior guard AJ Hoggard, graduate student Malik Hall and junior guard Jaden Akins combined to shoot 6-for-33 from the field. 

Izzo said MSU needs more from its upperclassmen in what he called the "tournament of champions," especially Hoggard, its senior point guard and floor general.

"(Hoggard) practiced really well this week," Izzo said. "It's almost like, for some strange reason, I need him, and he needs me. It's kind of a neat deal."

After the Spartans' win against Southern Indiana last Thursday, Izzo emphasized that the highly-touted freshmen are currently in a spot to grow, not to win or lose games for the team. However, he said flashes from forward Coen Carr and guard Jeremy Fears Jr. haven’t gone unnoticed. 

Izzo said Monday that MSU plans to redshirt freshman guard Gehrig Normand, though he highlighted that the plan is subject to change. 

“The way (Normand) shot it in practice the last two weeks, you'd say 'why?'" Izzo said. "But we also think he's got to get stronger, and there's some things he's got to improve on. We're very high on Gehrig, like we're very high, to the point where I told his parents we may not redshirt him."

Scouting Duke

The Blue Devils take on a different image than they have in recent years, led by four returning starters from a team that won 27 games last season.

MSU is tasked with handling the talent and physique of sophomore center Kyle Filipowski, who put up 25 points in Duke's loss to Arizona. Izzo called Filipowski's combination of size, ball-handling and shooting a "problem." Filipowski also has at least three inches on his projected counterpart in MSU center Mady Sissoko

Perhaps the Duke returner Spartan fans remember the most is senior guard Jeremy Roach–who put MSU to bed when they met last in the second round of the 2022 NCAA tournament–converting several tough, late buckets that included a dagger three-pointer from way outside the arc. 

"He's their 'big shot guy,'" Izzo said of Roach. "He makes big shots, and he's comfortable with it. He's pretty good defensively. He's a very solid guard; you can tell one that's been in the program for four years."

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It'll be interesting to see who Izzo sticks on Roach defensively with two other ball-handlers in the projected starting five. Sophomore Tyrese Proctor and freshman Jared McCain make up the rest of the Blue Devil backcourt, both presenting challenges at all three levels offensively. 

Izzo said Proctor, a talented guard who chose to return for another year in Durham, is "a pro" with his quickness and shooting ability. 

The Spartans will also need to look out for the high-flying Mark Mitchell, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward who can change games with his defense and rebounding. Assuming Hall gets the start for MSU, he will have the tall order of taming Mitchell's athleticism. 

Izzo is 3-13 all-time against Duke and former coach Mike Krzyzewski. With Jon Scheyer–one of Coach K's former players–now at the helm, Tuesday will begin a new chapter in Izzo's storied career. It’s worth noting that Izzo recruited Scheyer to play at Michigan State in the late 2000s. 

"Looking down there and not seeing Mike Krzyzewski, that'll be different for me for sure," Izzo said. "But they're in good hands, they're doing well, and hopefully we are too."

Tuesday night's marquee matchup may not be the top-5 showdown college basketball fans expected. But, in a crazed time in college basketball, thanks to the transfer portal, NIL and other factors, rest assured both teams will fight to take home their first major win of the season.

"As you see it around college basketball, everybody's trying to figure out who they got, what they got," Izzo said. "That's what we're trying to do, too, and I still like what we got. We got to put guys in their position to be successful."

The Spartans and Blue Devils tip off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the United Center in Chicago, IL. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. 

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