I am excited to go to Cameron Indoor Stadium for Wednesday night's Michigan State-Duke showdown in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
No, my friends, it is not No. 1 going up against No. 2 (you can thank UConn for that), but this still has the potential of being a matchup of teams going to Houston for the Final Four. Remember that, last season, both of these teams made it to Indianapolis for the Final Four. Michigan State lost to Butler in the national semifinals, then the Dukies beat Brad Stevens' club in the title game.
I saw Duke in person at the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo., and Mike Krzyzewski's team is as good as advertised. I love the way the Blue Devils maintain their spacing on offense. This group makes the extra pass to get good looks at the basket!
Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are the perfect combination of veteran leadership, and Kyrie Irving is a young spark plug. He used his lightning-quick speed to dominate Jacob Pullen in Duke's win over Kansas State and ultimately was named MVP of the tourney.
Mason Plumlee is a different player from a year ago, too. He has developed into a force inside, posting 25 points and 12 rebounds against Marquette. The Blue Devils have five guys scoring in double figures, so defenses have a tough time stopping all of their offensive threats.
Duke has loved playing in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, sporting a 10-1 record in the competition. The lone loss came last year, at Wisconsin. It is never easy to beat Bo Ryan's club in Madison, baby!
On the other side of the court is Tom Izzo, who has led Michigan State to the Final Four in six of the past 12 seasons. The Spartans have three players averaging double figures: Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green. Lucas, back from an Achilles injury suffered in the Big Dance, has put up some impressive numbers. Unfortunately, he was held to 10 points in that loss to Connecticut in Maui.
Duke's biggest concern is rebounding, which is usually a strong suit for Izzo's club. This season, the Spartans have a plus-2.0 margin on the glass, way down from last season's plus-8.7.
In Coach K, Duke has a Hall of Famer on the sideline. Izzo is a future Hall of Famer in my book. It is a great coaching duel of two passionate leaders.
Michigan State-Duke is the marquee matchup in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It should be awesome, baby, with a capital A!