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Next Up - Michigan State

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Next up for Duke - well yes, that's true, but it's not really the headline now is it? The record.  Now that's the ticket. Right?

Well yes and no.  Between K and that bit of glory is a pain in the butt known as Tom Izzo's Michigan State team.


The natural temptation is going to be to compare Duke's game with the Spartans to UNC's.

Bad idea. UNC is a fully formed team with a highly experienced frontcourt and a superb point guard. Roles are fully established.  That's not the case with Duke and perhaps not with Michigan State either.

Against UNC, the Spartans started Branden Dawson, Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Brandon Wood.  Alex Gauna, Austin Thornton, Travis Trice and Derrick Nix all played at least 12 minute.  Russell Byrd, who was injured last year, got only two.

They lived up to part of their normal profile, pounding the Heels on the offensive boards, 19-6 and 42-36 overall.

However, they shot just 30.6% from the floor and just 2-20 from three point range (John Henson can make you do that).

Their most interesting player to us is Green, a 6-7 guy who is about as smart as anyone in college today.

Remember their taut win over Maryland a couple of years ago in the NCAAs? We can't remember if Green was the guy who made the clutch shot or the guy who ducked so the pass went through, but we're betting he's the guy who ducked. He's a pain in the butt and Duke doesn't match up well with him.  He may force Duke to go to either Josh Hairston or Michael Gbinije more than they might like.

However, while Green is a senior, Dawson is a freshman (Byrd is a redshirt frosh) and Appling and Payne are sophomores.

In fact, nine players are underclassmen, which is probably not ideal for the Garden (or an aircraft carrier for that matter).

Still, Izzo iz (that's a cool typo, we're keeping it) pretty old school, and so is Krzyzewski.  So to an extent, you can toss expectations out and reduce this game to a few basic issues: Spartan rebounding vs. Duke defense, Michigan State's more deliberate offense vs. Duke's periodically explosive game, and most elementally of all, desire vs. desire.  Because that's what rebounding and defense come down to, really.

For the Devils, they face a typically beefy bunch of Spartans (though Duke has a bit of size advantage) and that might present some difficulties.

Still, while the attention is going to be on the record and the accomplishment, both teams are growing and have a lot to prove, both to themselves and others.  Michigan State had a dreadful season by their standards (Northwestern would have been giddy, however) at 19-15.

Both programs find their identity in hardnosed, smart basketball.  If Michigan State's trademark is rebounding, Duke's is defense and both love toughness.

Duke is still sorting out and trying on roles for size, and working on chemistry as well.

Seth Curry and the Plumlees seem to have a reasonable grasp on theirs, at least so far (they do change).

Andre Dawkins, a junior now, has become a solid defender and of course is capable of melting the nets when he gets hot.

Austin Rivers is learning quickly and has already become a much better defender and is learning when and where he can gamble offensively.

Where he can't do it is at the end of a tight game.  It wouldn't suprise us if he forced things a bit on Tuesday; nor would it surprise us if he just handled himself perfectly. The talent is there, but experience only comes in time, and it often comes in fits and starts.

Currently Duke brings Ryan Kelly and Tyler Thornton off the bench, and what a luxury that is: either guy could easily start at any point.

Kelly brings a scoring punch and defensive savvy; Thornton is a superb defender and has shown signs early of significant offensive improvement.

As we said, Hairston and Gbinije may find bigger roles in this game; so too might Quinn Cook.

His knee injury was  concern as recently as the China trip, so we expect he'll emerge a bit more slowly than people might like. We like what we've seen so far though.  He's a solid athlete, with superb reflexes and a good sense of the court.

Alex Murphy has sat out the first two games with a head injury, but he's shown some savvy as well.

Needless to say, there's an excellent chance that Duke could lose this game and that the record won't fall just yet.  Winning is important and better to learn from winning than losing, but with this team, learning is the key right now: learning roles, limits, defense and how to trust and play with each other.

Progress in those areas right now is much more important than simply winning or breaking a record.

Incidentally, K's mentor and current co-record holder, Bob Knight, will be working the game for ESPN.

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