You know it’s almost the holiday season when Tom Izzo can’t remember the name of the Champions Classic, referring to it as the Tournament of Champions. While the Champions Classic has not been historically kind to Michigan State basketball (5-7 overall), they played a classic (no pun intended) last year beating Kentucky in double overtime.
This year, they’ll play the Duke Blue Devils whom they have beaten once in this event and during the COVID-19 season.
Both teams are 1-1 and have fallen out of the top five of the AP Poll. This will be the first time Michigan State will play Duke without head coach Mike Krzyzewski at the helm, but that doesn’t mean they don’t recruit good players and still play a high level of basketball. But the team is beatable.
Here’s what the Spartans need to do to upset the No. 9 Duke Blue Devils.
1. A big game from the big men
The Blue Devils’ go-to guy through two games is their 7-foot-0 sophomore center Kyle Filipowski, scoring 25 points in both contests. He can shoot the three, too. The bad news is that missed assignments and late close-outs will get you beat. And too many times I’ve seen forwards and centers be about a step and a half too late on close-outs.
The good news is that we have three players that Izzo can rotate on Filipowski and see who has the hot hand against him. Carson Cooper and Xavier Booker can match his size while Mady Sissoko can match his athleticism. Also, with three bigs against him, there are fouls to give and make his life tough trying to get to the basket.
The Spartans also have to rebound this game. Duke was out-rebounded handily against Arizona and barely edged out Dartmouth on the boards in their first game. Izzo made a point to call out the team rebounding and we hope the adjustments have been made.
Duke currently ranks eighth in the ACC with a 40 percent shooting rate so they’re going to have their share of missed shots. The Spartans cannot let the Blue Devils get second chances at points with the Spartans having shooting woes of their own.