Michigan State vs. Duke: 5 Bold Predictions for Final Four Matchup


Not many people are giving the Michigan State Spartans a chance in this Final Four matchup with the Duke Blue Devils, and it’s understandable. Michigan State has been fighting for respect all season long and they’ve finally gotten some after a deep run in the tournament following a pedestrian 23-11 regular season.

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Duke is full of young talent like Tyus Jones, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow while veteran guard Quinn Cook is second on the team in scoring. Cook was the leading scorer for the Blue Devils when these two teams first met back in November.

While MSU has the talent to match some of Duke’s top guns, the Spartans will need to be on their game Saturday evening if they even want to have a chance at taking down the No. 1 seeded Blue Devils.

Let’s take a look at five things that I could see happening that not many else might. Yes, it’s five bold predictions time.

5. Okafor Goes Off in First Half

This one isn’t exactly the boldest of predictions, but the freshman star from Duke has been silenced for the past two games by Gonzaga and Utah, so he’s hungry. Okafor has combined for 15 points and 18 rebounds in his last two games, far below his season average in scoring.

He will score 12 points in the first half while grabbing six boards in the process. Michigan State’s big men will have a tough time stifling Okafor and foul trouble will likely be in order.

The Spartans will need to make a serious halftime adjustment if they want to take down mighty Duke in the Final Four.

4. Dawson Will Play a Full 40 Minutes

Apr 3, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard/forward

Branden Dawson

dunks during practice for the 2015 NCAA Men

No, I don’t mean Branden Dawson will be on the court with no breaks for 40 minutes during this game, obviously. Dawson will need to be his best self in order for the Spartans to win — and he knows that. Feeling the pressure of his college career ending so close to the ultimate prize will force him to play his best career game.

So often this year, we have seen Dawson have a poor, non-existent first half followed by a great second half, or vice versa.

Rarely have we seen Dawson put together a full 40 minutes and he will need to have the type of game he had in the first matchup against Duke, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds. In this one, Dawson will have 20 points and 11 rebounds.

3. Duke Will be Up by Double-Digits in the First Half

Michigan State is known as a second half team and this game will test that label. The Spartans have been down by double-digits twice already in this tournament against their last two opponents and it will be up to a strong second half surge in order to bring them back.

Duke will start the game off hot and stay hot into halftime while the Spartans will start slow, heating up right before the first half buzzer. Duke will take a commanding 38-29 lead into halftime just after the Spartans fought back from a 13-point deficit.

Winslow and Okafor will steal the show early while Jones gets into the action later on. The nation will see just why Duke was a No. 1 seed and everyone will begin to doubt the Spartans — yet again.

2. Michigan State Shuts Down Okafor in Second Half

Mar 29, 2015; Syracuse, NY, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward

Marvin Clark

Jr. (0) and Michigan State Spartans guard

Denzel Valentine

(45) go for a loose ball Louisville Cardinals forward

Montrezl Harrell

(24) during the first half in the finals of the east regional of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The first half will see young Jahlil score 12 points, but the second half will be a completely different story as the Spartans will lock down on him just as they locked down on Montrezl Harrell in the second half of the Elite Eight game.

Sure, Okafor is a better post player than Harrell, but the Spartans know how to regroup, listen to Tom Izzo’s advice and put it to use at the next opportunity.

After a strong first half from the likely No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, Michigan State will hold Okafor to just four second half points and he will seem very rattled near the end of the game, showing why he’s not comfortable at the line, missing key free throws.

1. Michigan State Will be Playing on Monday Night

Apr 3, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan State Spartans mascot Sparty during practice for the 2015 NCAA Men

Michigan State will overcome a big first-half deficit to take a late lead in the second half and never look back, hitting key free throws with Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. This is a team of destiny, even Izzo has said it.

Trice will show why he is going to be the NCAA Tournament MVP, if MSU wins it all, and he will score a game-high 23 points on the Spartans’ way to the ‘ship.

It’s been six years since the Spartans last played in the National Championship Game, but Monday night will mark the third time in Tom Izzo’s career that Michigan State will be one of two teams left.

Next: MSU-Duke Final Four Preview, Prediction