Representing the # 1 and # 7 seeds of the South bracket, the 33-4 Duke Blue Devils and the 27-11 Michigan State Spartans will meet in the Final Four on Saturday night with the winner moving on to the National Championship game. Both teams are coming off impressive wins but the Spartans have had the much tougher road to get here. In their past 3 games, they scored upsets over the # 4, #3, and # 2 seeded teams in the bracket. All of those games were very close and came down the wire including the win against Louisville in the Elite Eight which went to overtime. Duke just beat the # 2 seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs in the Elite Eight 66-52 with the game never really being in doubt. The only real test they had this tournament was from the Utah Utes whom they only beat by 6 points 63-57.Both of these teams have hall of fame coaches in Mike Krzyewski and Tom Izzo. Krzyzewski is 8-1 all-time versus Izzo, but Izzo is 13-9 in the Tournament when facing a lower seeded team.
The Spartans Elite Eight victory over Louisville was highlighted by the spectacular play of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson. Trice scored 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Valentine had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists while Dawson had 9 points, 11 rebounds and 4 blocks. Michigan State even managed to make 75% of its free throws in this game including all of them down the stretch when they needed them. What started as a problem for these Spartans, who averaged 62% from the free throw line during the year, is now becoming a vital piece to their success. The negatives to take away from this game are they allowed Louisville to grab 15 offensive rebounds and allowed the Cardinals to take 29 free throws.
Duke has advanced in this tournament on the strength of their outstanding play from their trio of freshman starters. Jahlil Okafor is the best freshman in the country and teams are double teaming him every chance they get. He is remaining patient and hasn’t forced the action but still has scored at least 20 points in 3 separate games this tournament. Tyus Jones and Justice Winslow don’t get the same level of attention as Okafor, but they have been just as important. In their win over Gonzaga this trio accounted for 40 of the teams 66 points and 16 of the teams 31 rebounds. As a team they did a great job of holding onto the basketball by only committing 3 turnovers. Defensively they forced Gonzaga into 13 turnovers and held them to 20% shooting from 3 point range as they only made 2 out of their 10 attempts.
Both of these teams have been good against the spread this year with the Blue Devils going 22-14 and the Spartans going 22-15-1. These 2 teams met in November and Duke won the game 81-71. In that game Duke shot over 50 % from both the field and three-point line. They also scored 24 points off of 14 Spartan turnovers. They will need to a better job on defense and holding on to the ball if they wish to upset their 4 opponent in a row.
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