Champions Classic Game Preview and Predictions: Duke Blue Devils vs. Michigan State Spartans

Duke's star freshmen dominant in early matchups

Duke and Michigan State may look familiar to the untrained eye when the two teams meet Tuesday night in the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.

 

Mike Krzyzewski is here. So is Tom Izzo. Duke has talent. Michigan State has plenty of upperclassmen.

 

A deeper look, though, reveals just how strange these teams are for Krzyzewski and Izzo.

 

Duke is likely to start three freshmen. Perhaps that’s not odd for many teams, especially top teams that gobble up McDonald’s All-Americans. Duke's not always one of them. Consider this: Krzyzewski has coached 1,159 games at Duke. Only 37 times including this season has he started three freshmen and 27 of those lineups came during the 1982-83 season.

 

Meanwhile, the steady national contender Michigan State enters the season without any major expectations for a Big Ten title or Final Four run. The departures of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling have left the Spartans with a changing of the guard.

 

Duke vs. Michigan State

 

Site: Indianapolis, Bankers Life Fieldhouse

Time: 7 p.m. Eastern

TV: ESPN

 

What’s on the line for Duke

 

The Blue Devils handled Presbyterian and Fairfield by a combined score of 222-103 in the first two games, but this could be a key moment for Duke to establish itself as one of the nation’s dominant teams early in the season. The Blue Devils also face Wisconsin at Madison and defending national champion Connecticut on a neutral court before Dec. 18 for an interesting first five weeks of the season.

 

What’s on the line for Michigan State

The Spartans will see where they stand against a national contender. The Big Ten may have only one elite team this season (Wisconsin), but the Spartans figure to be right in the mix. A lopsided loss in Indianapolis combined with the Spartans’ sloppy 64-59 win over Navy on Friday will allow some doubt to creep in.

You’ll tune in to watch: Jahlil Okafor

 

Duke’s freshman center is the projected No. 1 overall pick and an All-America contender. So far, Okafor has done nothing to counter that reputation. He’s shot 17-of-20 from the field overall this season with 17 points and 19 points in his first two games. If there’s any nitpicking to do, Okafor had five turnovers against Fairfield.

 

Pivotal player: Justise Winslow

 

Duke’s freshmen include Okafor, whose credentials have been established, and Tyus Jones, a freshman expected to challenge veteran Quinn Cook for the point guard job. Winslow is “simply” the other great freshman in this class. Winslow has been nearly as effective as Okafor, shooting 12-of-22 from the floor in two games and countering the argument that he’s everything but a shooter.

 

Biggest question: Does Michigan State’s experience help keep this close?

 

A veteran Michigan State team beat preseason No. 1 Kentucky in last year’s Champions Classic, but this game doesn’t have the same cliche of youth vs. experience. True, Michigan State has upperclassmen Branden Dawson, Travis Trice, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine, but all but Dawson were role players on last year’s Elite Eight team. Beyond its three starting freshmen, Duke has plenty of experience as well. The key veteran will be Dawson, whom Izzo said needs to be Superman in this game with his versatility.

 

Predictions

 

David Fox: Duke 68-58

Mitch Light: Duke 81-69

Nathan Rush: Duke 64-58

 

More Stories: