NCAA Tournament Picks: Michigan State vs. Duke | Blue Devils Are the Fittest Team

Joe Gavazzi

Thursday, April 2, 2015 2:40 PM GMT

Our expert handicapper gives us his preview on the Michigan State vs. Duke NCAA Tournament semi final. Which team will be the one to face the winner between Wisconsin vs. Kentucky?

Michigan St. Spartans vs. Duke Blue Devils (-5) 6:05 ET TBS
The Michigan St. Spartans line up against the Duke Blue Devils at 6:05 ET Saturday night as televised by TBS TV.  The Semi-Final winner of this game earns the right to face the Wisconsin/Kentucky winner in the Finals on Monday night. This is also a matchup of a pair of legendary coaches. Tom Izzo is in his 20th year at the head of the Michigan St. basketball program. His numerous appearances going deep into this Tournament have become legendary.  For Duke, Coach K is in his 35th season with a post-season record of excellence in his own right.  In fact, these two coaches feature more combined NCAA victories than any two coaches who have ever met in this event.  They arrived at this point in diverse patterns. 

Certainly, it is no surprise that Izzo has returned his Spartans to this event!  But after a 68-61 loss to Wisconsin on March 1st, Sparty stood just 19-10 SU.  Since that time, they have gone 8-1 SU, 7-2 ATS with an OT loss in the Big 10 CCT Final to Wisconsin, the only blemish on their record.  Their last 7 victories have all come against NCAA teams, Purdue, Indiana and Ohio St., in the Big 10 season, as well as Georgia, Virginia, Oklahoma and Louisville in this event. Note, however, that in that string of victories, no win has come in double digits.  It speaks loudly to the fact that the Spartans have been relying on strong fundamentals and great coaching to reach this game. That’s not a surprise, as Michigan St., entering this event had a 61/38/32 defense, a +6.8 rebound margin and a 17.1/11.6 assist/TO margin.  Their shooting from the field was solid at 47%, including 39% from the arc.  As long as the ball remains in the hands of Trice and Valentine down the stretch, the 63% foul shooting will not be their Achilles Heel.  Key to victory will be their ability to control the tempo, choosing to run only at the most opportune times.  Not once in their last 8 victories have they scored more than 76 points.  Shutting down the Duke offense will clearly be their biggest problem. 

Here's another capper's take on Michigan State vs. Duke 

It is much less a surprise that Duke is in the Semi-Finals.  Behind a trio of precocious freshman, much was expected of Duke, who was pegged as a Top 5 team in preseason polls.  But, the Blue Devils started their late-season surge even earlier than Michigan St.  Following a 73-77 loss to Notre Dame on January 28th, the Blue Devils have since gone 16-1 SU, 12-5 ATS. The lone loss came to Notre Dame (near slayer of Kentucky) in the CCT Final.  They have played their best in this event.  Through 4 contests, Duke has won by a combined margin of 78 points, covering the spread by 29 points.  Both those numbers are the best of the remaining NCAA participants. Though Duke is considered to be an efficient offensive team, it has been their defense in this event that has led them to this point. Their 4 opponents have scored just 53.5 PPG.  Though that may not be surprising against their first 3 victims, Robert Morris, San Diego St. and Utah, the 52 point defensive masterpiece against Gonzaga was most impressive!  Clearly, they have the best offense of any team remaining in the field.  Entering the event, Duke averaged 81 PPG on 50% shooting, 39% from behind the arc with a 15.5/11.2 TO/assist ratio.  Frosh phenomes, Okafor and Winslow, lead Duke to a +6.2 rebound margin.   The heady play of senior guard Quinn Cook is perfectly balanced by Tyus Jones, a freshman playing beyond his years.  These two combine for nearly 90% from the stripe at crunch time, meaning any late game margin should be extended.     

Izzo has done another masterful job in bringing his Spartans to this point. The team may well be satisfied just reaching the Final Four.  Such is not the case for Duke, whose expectations have the team and coaching staff hungry for the 2015 Title.  With the better balanced offense, a surprisingly good defense, I expect Duke to emerge with a rather comfortable victory in this Semi-Final event and move forward to the Finals Monday night, which is why I'm backing them with my NCAA Tournament Picks.

NCAA Tournament Pick: Duke Blue Devils

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