How Michigan State Can Stop Duke’s Jahlil Okafor


Tom Izzo and his guys know what they’re up against when it comes to stopping Duke’s big man, Jahlil Okafor. They’ve played already once this season and lost, 81-71, but you can argue that this Michigan State team is way better than it was at that time. If they want a trip to the big game on Monday night, they need to execute perfectly on the defensive end.

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While Michigan State’s big men, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling who both fouled out in the win against Louisville, know what will be needed for them to pull this upset off, they will need to be completely focused and need not play as physical to avoid early and late foul trouble. Okafor, who wasn’t double-teamed in first matchup, went 8-10 from the floor for 17 points and five rebounds while Costello and Schilling combined for only eight points and seven rebounds on 4-8 makes.

In the early going of this game, the guards need to drive into Okafor to try and get him in early foul trouble. He’s the only true big man that Duke has; take him out of the game and it’s about as an even a match as they can get. If they can’t get him in foul trouble, they’ll need to double team him and make him catch the ball in the high post making it harder for him to score.

Utah and Gonzaga both showed an effective way of shutting him down, making him score a combined 15 points between the two games. While doubling can work, Duke has some knock down shooters and Okafor has a knack for finding the open man when doubled. If they’re making those, MSU can’t double him, they’ll have to play him one-on-one and hope for the best.

Mar 29, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Louisville Cardinals forward/center

Mangok Mathiang

(12) and Michigan State Spartans guard/forward

Branden Dawson

(22) go for a rebound during the second half in the finals of the east regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

While Duke’s shooters are really good, they’ve been streaky so Michigan State has to hope for an off-night. If all else fails, Okafor will get his production in the paint but MSU still needs to defend the perimeter.

Notre Dame proved this to be an effective strategy when it beat Duke in both meetings by playing him man-to-man. The Fighting Irish didn’t necessarily let Okafor score with ease, but they really had no inside presence. While Okafor was lighting it up, Notre Dame did an excellent job limiting the three-point shooting. Okafor himself can space out his entire team with you concentrating on him so much he’ll leave great angles for his wing guys and get “easy” lanes to the basket.

The key player on the defensive end in this game has to be Branden Dawson, who’ll most likely be on freshman wing man Justise Winslow. He can help bother and disrupt Okafor with his length and crazy leaping ability. He has to stay out of foul trouble, Michigan State will need him. When Okafor drives baseline like he does, Costello should step in front of him and Dawson can come down the middle of the lane, leaving him stuck with nowhere to go. Put pressure on him, he’s a freshman who rarely gets rattled. Have him make the decision and maybe force the turnover. That’s the best bet.

Tom Izzo has said this team can make the championship game all year. His players believe that, too. This is going to be a dog fight and will be a joy to watch.

Next: MSU-Duke Final Four Preview, Prediction