A lot of chalk in the East Region has given us a regional final featuring the 1 seed Duke Blue Devils and 2 seed Michigan State Spartans. The game is in Washington DC with the Blue Devils listed as 2-point favorites.
Michigan State is officially rolling after their 17-point win over LSU in the Sweet 16. The Spartans started the tournament slowly, trailing 15 seed Bradley at halftime in the first round. But Tom Izzo’s team got it going in the second half of that game and hasn’t looked back, scoring comfortable wins over Minnesota and LSU to reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 2015.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils have rarely been able to breathe easy in their tournament. They survived two missed layups at the buzzer against Central Florida in the Round of 32 and spent most of their Sweet 16 game with Virginia Tech playing from behind. Duke was also a missed layup away from overtime on Friday night. Alas, the Blue Devils have survived and advanced and are now one win away from the Final Four.
The Supporting Cast
Despite Zion Williamson getting most of the attention, it was Duke’s supporting cast that stepped up during the Sweet 16. Tre Jones had a career game, scoring 22 points and dishing out eight assists. Opposing teams have spent most of the season imploring him to shoot from the perimeter, but Jones made five of his seven 3-point attempts against Virginia Tech. If he shoots like that in the Elite Eight, the Blue Devils will be tough to beat.
Alas, perimeter shooting is still a concern for Duke. RJ Barrett and Alex O’Connell were a combined 0 for 11 from beyond the arc against Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, Cam Reddish, one of their best shooters, missed the game due to injury. Despite the poor shooting, Barrett still racked up 18 points and 11 assists. However, if the Blue Devils remain cold from the outside, all the pressure once again shifts to Williamson to carry the team.
The Other Freshmen
Obviously, Duke’s freshmen get a lot of praise, but Michigan State’s freshmen proved in the Sweet 16 that they can carry a team too. Freshman forward Aaron Henry had 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists against LSU, singlehandedly controlling the game at times. Fellow freshman Gabe Brown came out of nowhere to score 15 points on 4 of 6 shooting from 3-point range. It was a prime example of the depth of options the Spartans have on their roster.
In addition to Henry and Brown, MSU has a pair of sharpshooters in Cassius Winston and Matt McQuaid, who both make over 40% of their 3-point attempts and could give the Spartans an edge on the perimeter if their shots are falling. Of course, the biggest question for Michigan State is whether frontcourt players like Nick Ward, Xavier Tillman, and Kenny Goins have the muscle to match up with Williamson inside and slow him down at least a little bit.
Looks Like Destiny
One could argue that Duke has played with fire the past couple of games, but one could also argue that they look destined to win the title after surviving those games. Either way, it’s tough to bet against the Blue Devils, especially with such a low spread. Bet on Duke to win and cover the 2-point spread against Michigan State.