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Sweet 16 Matchup
The inevitable matchup of Tom Izzo vs. Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K has the head-to-head advantage at 6-1 over the years, but they are tied at 1-1 come tourney time. Both teams are looking good and rolled through minor problems along the way. Duke had their two bigs in foul trouble all game against Creighton, but their role players stepped up as they still managed a 16-point win. Michigan State's Keith Appling popped his shoulder late in the Memphis game, but his backups stepped up as they rolled Memphis by 22 points. Who will step up in this battle? This game was given primetime status on Friday night for a reason with Duke coming in as slight -2 point favorites.
The Spartans dominated the paint in their first two games led by Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne. Nix had 23 points and 15 boards against Valpo while Payne went for 14 points, 10 boards and five blocks against Memphis. It's going to be a much different story against the Blue Devils, however. Duke presents a new problem with Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, but a lot of people are questioning their toughness, especially after Doug McDermott reeled them into foul after foul last game. Payne's intensity will be too much to match for Kelly who hasn't hit a three-pointer in four straight games. The one battle that could have a hand in deciding this game is between Plumlee and Nix. The more agile and versatile Plumlee has the advantage, but Nix has stepped up his game in the tournament. Nix's defense could be the most important thing in this game for Michigan State as Plumlee will be one of the most difficult players he's faced all season.
On the outside, it's going to be a shot-for-shot competition between sharp shooters Seth Curry and Gary Harris. Both of them have the ability to catch fire which is usually a death sentence for opposing defenses. They have very similar shooting percentages, but Curry takes a few more shots per game. That could change if Keith Appling's shoulder flairs up at all for MSU. Defending both of these players will be important for each team. The Spartans may have the advantage due to Harris' 6-4 height and his length. Branden Dawson and Rasheed Sulaimon could even be called upon to defend the guards as needed because both of them have the quickness to keep up. Dawson and Sulaimon are very enigmatic players and could become x-factors in this game. Dawson is hit-or-miss as seen in his one-point performance against Memphis while Sulaimon went for 21 vs. Creighton.
The matchups for the starters are really even, but the difference could fall on the bench. Denzel Valentine continues to be a problem for opposing guards with his 6-5 height. Duke's sixth man is guard Tyler Thornton who rings in at 6-1. Valentine's savviness and work on the boards could be a large helping factor in this game after he finished with nine points, six boards and six assists against Memphis.
While Duke is favorites in this game, it could almost be listed as a pick 'em. It will most likely come down to the final minutes which you can never predict in March Madness. Michigan State has the better defense, but Duke brings in one of the top offenses in the nation. Will the Blue Devils be able to force turnovers and push the Spartans too far? Or will Michigan State use its size and strength to beat up on the more finesse team of Duke?
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