The last time Duke and Michigan State met on the court, it was for the right to go to the 2019 Final Four.
The Spartans got the best of the Blue Devils that day in the East Regional final of the NCAA Tournament, knocking off a Duke team that was a heavy favorite to win the national championship.
The teams will meet again on Tuesday night at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich., as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. While the stakes aren’t nearly as high, the buzz around the game has hardly been dampened, even as both teams saw a drop in the polls after upset losses last week.
Duke (7-1) fell from No. 1 to No. 10 while Michigan State (5-2) dropped from No. 3 to No. 11.
“Breslin is gonna be at a different level,” Michigan State sophomore Aaron Henry said. “I can only imagine what it’s gonna be like on Tuesday, and it’s good for our fans. We get Big Ten games that are good here on our court, and now you get Duke coming here.
“It’s gonna be fun for us to play, and it’s gonna be a chance to see where we’re at.”
Where the teams are at is the big question a month into the season.
Expectations, of course, are typically high for both teams, and that hasn’t changed. The Spartans opened the season as the top-ranked team in the country, a spot Duke took over after Michigan State and Kentucky both faltered. Now Duke has ceded the top spot after a home loss last week to Stephen F. Austin.
Entering such a high-level game, it seems neither team is sure where it stands.
“I think we’ve got a golden opportunity to play against a very good team that’s doing just like us,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “They’re trying to find themselves.”
The Blue Devils have been getting solid play out of sophomore point guard Tre Jones and freshman big man Vernon Carey Jr. But with freshman guard Cassius Stanley likely out with a leg injury, getting consistency from the rest of the rotation has been a struggle.
For Mike Krzyzewski, it’s been about building confidence so the Blue Devils are in the position they expect to be late in the season.
“We’re going to have to work through a bunch of things like that with this group,” the legendary Duke coach said. “It’ll take time, and we’re going to try to muck it out and we know we’re not a top five team — maybe not even a top 25 team in the country right now.
“It’s a different journey for our fans, for me, and it’s a much different journey. We’re not pounding our chests, but we have a great group of kids and they’re working hard. We have a really tough week next week that would be tough even if you were a top five team.”
For Michigan State, holes in the rotation exist, but the emotional toll has been tough early as senior guard Cassius Winston has continued to play even after the sudden death of his brother. It’s had an effect on the entire team, but considering that and the loss of senior guard Joshua Langford to a foot injury, Izzo believes the Spartans have been OK.
“Let me tell you, we’re a work in progress yet,” Izzo said. “We’re actually doing pretty good under everything we’ve gone through.”
–Field Level Media