Duke/Michigan State: Three-Point Thoughts


All summer long, all I talked about was this game…not how nice it was outside, not how important my real job is, not about my son learning to crawl…just this game.

It was suppose to be simple…1 vs 2.

The Duke Blue Devils and Michigan State Spartans were clearly the two best teams in the nation prior to the season. This game was suppose to be a preview of of the 2010-2011 national championship game, but then the Spartans had to go and lose a game.

Granted, this probably still is a preview of the national championship game, but No. 1 vs. No. 5, like me in a Speedo, just isn’t as sexy. Thanks, Spartans.


The reports are in…Duke is good. In fact, Duke is really good. Duke is better than everyone. Duke is better than everyone by a lot. This team is so good…how good are they? They’re so good, they can go undefeated. Jesus himself would be stuck coming off the bench.

Read any newspaper, find any article, check out any blog writing about Duke and this is the basic theme. The question is, can all this go to a player’s head? It’s hard to imagine they’re not buying into the hype.

This is the number one challenge for this coaching staff. This team will need to be reminded over and over again, that they still have a lot to learn, they still have a lot of challenges ahead and no matter how good they think they are, this is college basketball, the best team doesn’t always cut down the nets at the end.

Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving have been simply awesome this season. They’re scoring 30 points per game, hitting over 50-percent of their shots. They’re 1-2 in the ACC in assists, without turning the ball over too much. Yet, it’s their defense (along with Curry and Dawkins) that is really allowing Duke to dominate.

They have simply shut down opposing guards. Let’s look at the numbers. Opposing starting guards against Duke are shooting just over 30-percent (30-98). In six games (including three away from home), they’ve allowed just 11 three pointers (20 percent overall). Opponents have dished out only 22 assists (under four a game), while turning the ball over 40 times (nearly seven times per game). Below are the game breakdowns.

"Princeton: 8-15 from the floor, 4-8 from three, 0-8 assists-turnoversMiami (OH): 3-19 from the floor, 1-8 from three, 4-7 assists-turnoversColgate: 3-18 from the floor. 2-7 from three, 4-5 assists-turnoversMarquette: 8-27 from the floor, 2-12 from three, 4-6 assists-turnoversKansas State: 7-25 from the floor, 2-14 from three, 5-7 assists-turnoversOregon: 1-4 from the floor, 0-2 from the three, 5-7 assists-turnovers"

Michigan State’s biggest problem right now (turnovers) is Duke’s biggest strength (perimeter defense). Let me explain.

The Spartans are a deep team and will run a lot of guys out there, especially at the guard spots. Five different guards play 10 minutes each and they combine to score 50 of State’s 79 points per game. That’s good.

The big two are senior guards (and best friends) Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers. Lucas has been battling back from an ACL injury he suffered in last year’s tournament. He’s played well, but he has yet to regain some his burst from a year ago. Summers scoring numbers are up (especially his three-point shooting), but the problem both of them have had is their assist-to-turnovers radio. The pair have 27 turnovers compared to 23 assists.

You just know Coach K is going to have his guards glued to the Spartans guards way beyond the three line. If MSU wants to get some damage done, they’re going to have to hold on to the rock.

If you really want to know the secret to beating Duke, I’ll tell you. You’re going to have to do it in the paint. Duke’s basic rotation is Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly starting, Miles coming off the bench. That’s it. Josh Hairston hasn’t shown enough to warrant playing time in big games yet.

When Duke subs, they typically go three guard, moving Singler to the PF spot. With Mason as the lone “big man” Duke is still dangerous. However, take Mason out and Duke is less dangerous.

If the Spartans want to win this, they’ll need to get the ball down low. They have a wide variety of big men who can work in the post. Between Draymond Green, Durrell Summers, Garrick Sherman and Adreain Payne, Coach Izzo has enough bodies to go after Duke’s big’s, especially Mason. With so man bodies, the Spartans can take a chance and pick up some fouls. Mason Plumlee is only hitting 40-percent of his free throws, while Miles and Kelly sit around 60-percent.

In turn, if you can get Mason into foul trouble (something he’s been able to avoid so far), then Michigan State can go big and handle Miles and Ryan Kelly inside.

The X-factor in this game is Draymond Green. He is the most dangerous man for the Spartans in my eyes. The 6-6 junior is a bit undersized, but he’s athletic and plays much, much bigger. He can cause problems down low. He’s hitting nearly 60-percent of his shots, he can score from the outside and he’s an excellent passes (leads the team in assists). He’s also first in steals and blocks. Dangerous.

Green will probably see a lot of Kyle Singler, who is a better fit on the defensive end, but if the Spartans go small, Green could find himself going up against Duke’s big boys, which I think favors MSU.

The Michigan Spartans have not looked great so far. They didn’t dominate South Carolina, they struggled with Chaminade, lost to Connecticut,  and they didn’t beat Washington until the final eight seconds.

Meanwhile, Duke is bitch slapping everyone who crosses their paths.

Yet, none of that really matters. The Spartans have a habit of playing down to their competition. With Duke, there is no down. I suspect Tom Izzo will have his boys believing they can win this game and I suspect he’ll give us a great game plan.

If it was me, I would focus less on dribbling the ball around and try to not swing it around the perimeter too much. This just opens up lanes for the quick Duke guards to rob you blind. Get the ball down low and dump it inside. If the Blue Devils show any signs of struggling to defend State’s big men, then they’ll double up, opening up outlet passes for open threes (remember Green leads the team in assists). On the season, Lucas and Summers are both hitting over 40-percent from three.

However, Duke is Duke. They also have a great coach who can game plan and this one is at home. The Blue Devils don’t loss at home against non-conference foes.

Look for Duke to attack the ball on defense and run on offense. I expect huge numbers from the guards, including the Swat Team (Curry & Dawkins). Kyrie Irving, who seems to be getting better and better every game (unlike Carolina’s Harrison Barnes), should be able to dominate this game, as long as he finishes at the basket.


Note: I will be sort-of live-blogging from twitter. Come join the fun at @bigdukeballs