Michigan State - Duke Sweet-16 Preview

DUKE/MICHIGAN STATE IS A FINAL FOUR CALIBER GAME SITTING IN THE SWEET 16

Give the long Dance history of Coach K and Tom Izzo, it wouldn't be a surprise to have Duke and Michigan State facing off in the Final Four or even the National Championship game. Duke cut down the nets a few years ago. Michigan State knows that feeling too. These two programs are annually featured stars in the MARCH MADNESS experience.

Yet, this isn't a week from Monday's finals...or even next Saturday's Final Four. This is a Friday Night showdown in Indianapolis just for the right to go to battle in the Elite Eight. You'll see in a moment that the respected computers we use in our indicator stats already have both of these teams as Elite Eight caliber! Bad luck in the bracketing put them in each other's section. Now, fans will be treated to a dream matchup that will send an annual power home for Easter.

Let's see what our gauntlet of indicators says we should expect from this marquee matchup...

WON-LOST RECORDS
Michigan St.: 27-8 (13-5 in the Big 10)
Duke: 29-5 (14-4 in the ACC)

Duke has the better record, but played in the softer conference. Given Duke's poor road performances in ACC action (and neutral court loss to Maryland in the postseason tournament), you can probably assume the Blue Devils would have lost at least six or seven games had they played in the Big 10. Yes, Ryan Kelly was out for most of that, and is back now. Part of handicapping the Blue Devils right now is getting a read on his true value. He seemed huge in the win over Miami, but invisible in the loss to Maryland. Here in the Dance, Duke was impressive against Creighton, but lethargic against Albany until the final minutes. Duke has no shot of running the table against Michigan State, Louisville, and whoever awaits in the Final Four if they can't find some consistency quick!

COMPUTER RANKINGS
Michigan St.: #7 with Sagarin, #7 with Pomeroy
Duke: #5 with Sagarin, #4 with Pomeroy

Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy have both teams in the top eight, with Pomeroy nudging Duke up to the equivalent of a #1 seed even though Kelly was absent for much of the sample size. It's important to remember that Michigan State usually peaks late, meaning that they often outplay their full season ranking in the Dance. They'll have to win here just to match their full season ranking.

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Michigan St.: #3 with Sagarin, #2 with Pomeroy
Duke: #7 with Sagarin, #9 with Pomeroy

This gets flip-flopped because the Big 10 is so much better than the ACC. And, we'd be sympathetic to anyone suggesting the ACC is even worse than the computers have accounted for. NC State couldn't make it past Temple in the first round. North Carolina was squashed by the Kansas team that struggled with Western Kentucky. Miami almost joined Carolina on the sidelines after the Round of 32.

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
Michigan St.: 10-8
Duke: 12-5

This one can get tricky to analyze, and you don't want to let biases get in the way of the facts. Generally speaking, Duke is a team that peaks early because Coach K's strengths matter most early in a season when other teams are poorly prepared. He schedules hard, and beats those unprepared powers. In Dance's, Duke has generally been a disappointment the last several years outside of that one great run (this is a team that lost to Lehigh last year, and got crushed by Arizona the year before). So...that 12-5 is awesome, but it might be frontloaded. Michigan State tends to peak late...using early season losses to expose flaws they need to correct. They're a better tournament team that a regular season team. This already tricky dynamic is influenced by the Ryan Kelly situation too. You longtime readers know we're typically pretty skeptical of Duke in the Dance. He might be a vaccine this year that's come along at just the right time.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Michigan St.: #21
Duke: #5

Moving to the chess match... Duke gets the nod here because full season data includes their strong three-point shooting at home and the bonus free throws they get from friendly officials in league play. Then generally don't play to their full season norms in the Dance because those edges disappear. Still, there's obviously scoring talent here. What's important to remember is that Michigan State grades out well offensively even though they're seen as a grinder in a physical league. Pomeroy adjusts for pace and schedule strength, which actually pushes Sparty up to elite stats on this side of the ball. If you were thinking that Duke was obviously the better offensive team coming into this game, you might want to re-think that. If Kelly plays well, it's going to be a close call.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Michigan St.: #6
Duke: #23

No surprise here from Michigan State. You knew they played tough defense. Duke is grading out tougher than normal on this side of the ball. But, they still have issues near the basket and in defensive rebounding. The Blue Devils really need to toughen up in the paint if they're going to advance. Typically, when they're eliminated each year, it's been because they were abused inside the arc. That's right up Michigan State's alley.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Michigan St.: #253
Duke: #92

Another game where we have a slow team facing a fast team, and there will be a battle to control the flow of the game. Haven't those been fun to watch this year? In the regular season, it's usually the HOME team that imposes its will. In neutral site tournament play, it's typically the slower team because playoff basketball tends to slow itself down naturally when every possession is so important. Duke must fight the tendency to slow down because they don't have the physicality to get into a wrestling match with Michigan State.

BEST EXPECTATION
A lot of what we've talked about today favors the underdog Michigan State. Is the wrong team favored? That's arguably up to Ryan Kelly. Some believe Duke turns into championship material when he's on the floor, and stood on soap boxes pontificating about that before the Dance began. If he really is that big of an impact player, then you can justify Duke as the small favorite. He'd better be more forceful than he was in the ACC tourney loss to Maryland, or when he went 3 of 8 from the floor while committing four fouls in 31 minutes vs. Albany.

JIM HURLEY has been studying his computer printouts...because simulations with Kelly are so important for getting the proper read. He's also been in constant contact with sources in Indianapolis near the teams, and his guys offshore and in Las Vegas to see what the smart money is doing. If this game makes the final cut Friday, you can bet that the full TEAM HANDICAPPING JUGGERNAUT contributed to the play!

That full Friday slate of NCAA and NBA selections can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow with an Elite Eight preview as this wild weekend winds us down to the Final Four. We'll do the same thing on Easter Sunday with tonight's winners. The days on the calendar are flying by...but there's still a lot of MADNESS left in MARCH with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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