Duke 5.5-Point Favorite Vs. Michigan State In Final Four
Very early in the season, Duke beat Michigan State 81-71 at a neutral site, but Bovada oddsmakers expect a closer game in the Final Four opener in Indianapolis on Saturday as the Blue Devils are 5.5-point favorites with a total of 139.
Izzo Does It Again
Michigan State is the unquestioned underdog in this Final Four, though given the presence of Coach Tom Izzo and his six previous Final Fours, no one is dismissing the Spartans as a run-of-the-mill No. 7 seed. Will Duke, back in the Final Four for the first time since 2010, fend off the MSU challenge and give Coach Mike Krzyzewski a shot at national title No. 5? Most people think MSU has little shot.
Izzo's seven Final Four appearances since 1999 are more than any other coach in college basketball during that stretch (Krzyzewski of Duke and Roy Williams, at Kansas and North Carolina, have five in that same span). And he has more wins as a lower-seeded team (13) against a higher-seeded team than anyone in NCAA tournament history.
But the Final Four has been a different challenge for the Spartans. Aside from winning the 2000 national championship with wins over Wisconsin and Florida, Michigan State has gone 1-5 on the season's final weekend, with its only other national championship game being a loss to Tyler Hansbrough-led UNC in 2009.
Dozen For Coach K
Krzyzewski tied legendary UCLA coach John Wooden with his 12th Final Four appearance, yet his team's youth makes its trip to Indianapolis next weekend unlike any he has made before. While MSU's three best players, Travis Trice, Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine, are all upperclassmen, Duke's three best of Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones are freshmen. Of course, it's not only the freshmen who have helped Duke complete its run to the Final Four. With only eight players in the rotation, everyone plays a key role and no one has been more instrumental than senior guard Quinn Cook.
If the Spartans (27-11) are going to advance past the Blue Devils (33-4) on Saturday in the national semifinals at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, they'll need to demonstrate a better defense from the teams' first meeting. Both teams have improved since then, and both are excelling on different sides of the ball — MSU's tournament defensive field-goal percentage (33.9) is second among teams that have played more than one game, and Duke is third in the country this season in shooting (50.2%).
"I think our defense is a lot better now," Dawson said when asked about an 81-71 loss to Duke in the Champions Classic on Nov. 18 in Indianapolis. The Blue Devils shot 54% (27-for-50) from the field that night and 7-for-14 from three, though they also got 24 points off 13 turnovers. Cook scored 19 points, Jones and Okafor 17 apiece, and Winslow 15. Then, Duke started with a big lineup that featured Winslow at small forward and Amile Jefferson at power forward. Now, Krzyzewski is starting small with guard Matt Jones replacing Jefferson, and Winslow at power forward.
Michigan State trailed nearly the entire game on Nov. 18, but got to within three points with 12:19 to go at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Duke then went on a seven-point run and take control the rest of the way. Michigan State players say they've developed better chemistry and depth since then and learned how to play better team defense.
"Our chemistry really wasn't there, it was the beginning of the season," Dawson said. "We took that, we watched film, we had too many turnovers, we didn't do a great job on Jahlil (Okafor). I think our defense is a lot better now."
Duke is the +300 second-favorite at Bovada to win the national title and Michigan State the +800 long shot.
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