All previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule
Duke Blue Devils
Michigan State Spartans
Conference: Big Ten
Date: Saturday, April 4
Time: 6:09 pm Eastern
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Coach K meets Tom Izzo for the umpteenth time, but only the 2nd time in the Final Four.
Duke Michigan State
SportsRatings Power Ratings
Strength: #4 Strength: #13
Median play: #2 Median play: #10
Other Power Ratings
Sagarin(predictor):#2 Sagarin: #12
Pomeroy: #4 Pomeroy: #15
Offense: #3 Offense: #13
Defense: #17 Defense: #47
BPI: #7 BPI: #16
Power Rating Derivatives
2nd half/season: #5 2nd half/season: #13
NCAA tournament: #1 NCAA tournament: #5
Consistency: #343 Consistency: #208
Duke started the tournament ranking just 58th in defensive efficiency per Pomeroy. Just 4 games later, they're #17, quite an impressive move. Note that Pomeroy weighs recent games more, and with 'scrub' games weighted less, significant games will count more, too, which is why teams make such big 'moves' in efficiency during the tournament. But the takeaway is that the Blue Devils are now playing very well on defense, formerly their Achilles' Heel. They're also playing better than any team over the last 4 games, corresponding to their tournament games. Michigan State is 6th best over their last 4, 5th among the teams that have played 4 tourney games. For the season Duke's consistency level remains low, but so far in the tournament they've been either very good or great, the best kind of inconsistency.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (14): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, Wofford+29, @Louisville+11, @St. John's+9, @Virginia+6, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, Robert Morris+29, San Diego St.+19, =Utah+6, =Gonzaga+14
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (9): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10, @Louisville+11, Notre Dame+30, North Carolina+OT, @North Carolina+7, =North Carolina St.+24, =Utah+6, =Gonzaga+14
- Wins vs. Final Four (2): =Michigan St.+10, @Wisconsin+10
- Losses to tournament teams (3): @North Carolina St.-12, @Notre Dame-4, Notre Dame-10
- Other losses (1): Miami FL-16
Key Info: Duke's first game was a 113-44 win over Presbyterian and technically, that's the best they ever did. Realistically, their wins over Michigan State, Stanford, and especially beating 1-seed Wisconsin 80-70 in Madison were more impressive. For a time the Blue Devils looked unstoppable but then they were stopped by North Carolina State, and shockingly by Miami at home, 90-74. Duke rebounded to win 15 of their next 16, and even that loss, 77-73 at 3-seed Notre Dame, was a strong game. Their only weak game in the stretch was game 28, an overtime win at Virginia Tech that almost spoiled their 1-seed bid. They held onto that despite the final loss to Notre Dame playing in Greensboro. Due to beating both Big Ten reps and all 4 of the other ACC reps, Duke has 9 wins over the Sweet Sixteen, and even more remarkably, they've beaten 5 of the Elite Eight. They even have 2 wins over the 3 other Final Four teams (both by 10 points), including one over Michigan State on a neutral court.
As always Duke has tons of weapons but by far the most important is 6-11 freshman center Jahlil Okafor, whose 17.7 ppg and 9.0 rebounds have made him a leader for the Wooden Award. He scored 21 against Robert Morris but Quinn Cook led with 22, hitting 6 of 10 3-pointers. Okafor added 26 against San Diego State. Utah denied Okafor (6 points) but Justice Winslow picked up the slack with 21 points. Winslow and guard Matt Jones (4 of 7 3's) each had 16 points as the Blue Devils surged late to beat Gonzaga, 66-52 to make the Final Four.
- Wins vs. tournament teams (10): Indiana+20, @Iowa+14, Ohio St.+3, Purdue+6, @Indiana+2, =Ohio St.+9, =Maryland+4, =Georgia+7, =Virginia+6, =Oklahoma+4, =Louisville+OT
- Wins vs. Sweet Sixteen (2): =Oklahoma+4, =Louisville+OT
- Wins vs. Final Four (0): none
- Losses to tournament teams (8): =Duke-10, =Kansas-5, @Notre Dame-OT, Texas Southern-OT, Maryland-OT, @Maryland-16, @Wisconsin-7, =Wisconsin-OT
- Other losses (3): @Nebraska-2, Illinois-5, Minnesota-OT
Key Info: While this ended up being an "off year" for the Spartans, they were really a good team that played very inconsistent basketball, with no better example than the home loss to Texas Southern. The Tigers made the tournament, which should ease the embarrassment a bit, but at the time they were just 1-8. The recovery came in fits and starts, losing twice to Maryland and to Nebraska. It wasn't until the Big Ten tournament that things looked completely all right, with a 2nd win over Ohio State and finally beating Maryland. The Spartans almost had Wisconsin but let them escape. They didn't win any of their big pre-conference games against Duke, Kansas, or Notre Dame, so they didn't have any Sweet Sixteen wins before beating Oklahoma, but they did beat 1-seed Virginia. Michigan State played Duke once and Wisconsin twice, losing to both Final Four teams each time.
Guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine stepped up for the scoring honors this year at over 14 ppg apiece; they had 15 and 16 respectively against Georgia. Trice had 23 in the Virginia win and 24 in the Oklahoma game, including 6 of 6 from the free throw line where the Spartans have struggled as a team. Trice again led against Louisville, hitting 17 points and going 4 of 4 from the line in the 76-70 overtime win.
Game Analysis: These teams have been in a total of 19 Final Fours (12 for Duke, 7 for Michigan State) under their current coaches, Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo. They've met in the Final Four just once, in 1999, when Duke beat the Spartans 68-62 en route to finishing runner-up to UConn.
The teams met earlier just this year, however—and in Indianapolis, the site of this year's Final Four games. In the Champions Classic (a one-shot deal, not a tournament), Duke beat Michigan State 81-71. Four Blue Devils scored 15 or more points, led by Quinn Cook's 19. Jahlil Okafor went 8 of 10 for 17 points while Branden Dawson had 18 for the Spartans.
Michigan State actually outrebounded Duke 35-25 in that game and shot 50% from the floor; the difference was Duke shooting 50% on 3's to Michigan State's 25%, and getting 26 attempts from the free throw line to MSU's 10.
Duke by 5
Power rating: spread
Duke by 6.2
Game-comparisons: % Chance to win
Michigan St: 34.7%
The Vegas line will probably come in somewhat lower than the 6+ points the Strength power rating gives (update: it opened at 5 points), since Michigan State is playing better than they have all season. But Duke will be the favorite, as you would expect when a 1-seed faces a 7-seed. Interestingly, a 1 vs. 7 has only occurred once in the Final Four, and it was last year when 7-seed UConn beat 1-seed Florida. It happened 4 other times in the Elite Eight and the 1-seed won all 4 of those.
Bottom line: We've been looking at the teams that beat Duke during the season, and showed that Utah had some elements and Gonzaga most of them, but picked the Blue Devils both times because they've played so well against the top teams. Duke already beat Michigan State once this year, and we see it hapenning again unless the Spartans hit an inhuman amount of 3s. Duke has found consistency during the tournament, at a very high level.
Final prediction: Duke 73, Michigan State 65
More previews: click here for the full 2015 NCAA tournament schedule.