Michigan State’s Unsung Heroes Against Duke Might Surprise You


Tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Michigan State Spartans will be taking on the Duke Blue Devils for the right to play in the National Championship Game on Monday night. Of course, in order for the Spartans to move on, they will need the excellent play of Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson to continue. Without that trio playing at a high level, it’ll be very difficult for the Spartans to advance.

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They, however, cannot do it alone and will need solid contributions from their teammates on the court. When it’s all said and done, the unsung heroes of tonight’s game will be the center combination of Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello, or as I like to call them CoSchilling.

The best player on the Blue Devils is possible No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and fellow center, Jahlil Okafor. The Duke big man may be one of the most gifted young centers on the offensive end I have seen in a while. His quick footwork, range of shots he has in his repertoire and gifted passing make him a load to handle. This is where Costello and Schilling will come in to play.

It will be nearly impossible to keep Okafor from scoring and creating he is just too good. The keys for the Michigan State centers will be to make him work for his positioning, his points and take him out of his rhythm. In the first game, CoSchilling was vastly overmatched and Okafor scored at will and extremely easy. In that game he shot 8-10 and scored 17 points without barely breaking a sweat.

CoSchilling is going to have to make Okafor as uncomfortable as possible and make him work in the low post, all while not fouling. Each Michigan State center has struggled with fouls this year but it is going to be imperative tonight that coach Izzo has them at his disposal for the length of the game tonight.

On the offensive end neither Costello nor Schilling need to be a juggernaut but they do need to make Okafor guard them. If there’s one weakness in Okafor’s game, it’s most likely his defense. He doesn’t defend well one on one and really struggles away from the basket on ball screens.

The key will be to make Okafor use as much energy as possible while he is on defense which will hopefully hinder his offensive game. Schilling and Costello will need to pull Okafor away from the basket, as well as run as much as possible on fast breaks to force Okafor to do the same.

Mar 22, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Gavin Schilling (34) dunks the ball against Virginia Cavaliers forward Darion Atkins (5) during the first half in the third round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Any offensive output will be an added bonus. On the year Schilling is averaging 5.2 points per game and Costello is averaging 7.0 points per game. Michigan State would be thrilled and in a good place if at the end of the game CoSchilling has hit their combined average of just over 12 points per game.

Schilling and Costello have gone up against talented centers throughout the course of the year and held their own. By no means have these centers had the talent that Jahlil Okafor possess, but the grind and experience they have gained throughout the year will have them more prepared tonight than they were in the second game of the season.

I predict at the end of the game tonight that Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello will be the unsung heroes in the Spartans’ victory. Each of them will collect four fouls but never truly be in foul trouble until the end, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing to put Okafor on the foul line as he only shoots 51% from the charity stripe. They will have a combined 13 points and 10 rebounds between them but most importantly will have given Jahlil Okafor his toughest test of the year.

Okafor will end the night exhausted from being forced to play defense and being forced to run back on every possession. He will still be at his season average of 17.4 points per game but he will have to earn every point. Costello and Schilling have been much maligned throughout various points of this season but tonight they will each shine bright in their toughest test yet.

Next: MSU-Duke: 5 Bold Predictions