No. 5 Duke has won four straight games and is set to face off against a Power-5 team for the first time since its only loss of the season against then-No. 7 Kansas when it hosts Michigan State Tuesday night at 9:30. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team who could be a difference-maker in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge showdown:
Duke: Guard Frank Jackson
If there has been a consistent force for the Blue Devils throughout their first seven games, it has been the freshman point guard. Jackson's clutch 3-pointers nearly saved Duke against Kansas at the Champions Classic, and the Alpine, Utah, native has poured in double-digit points in each contest for the Blue Devils.
After he initially came off the bench, head coach Mike Krzyzewski shifted the freshman into the starting lineup against Rhode Island and has kept the 6-foot-3 guard there since. Jackson is averaging 32.7 minutes in the last three games and shot 6-of-12 against William and Mary, knocking down three 3-pointers and tallying 19 points.
But the Spartans—a guard-oriented team—will have the players to match up with the freshman's quickness come Tuesday. Even in its more lopsided losses, Michigan State has defended guards well—Baylor's starting backcourt trio was held to 24 combined points when it faced the Spartans last week. With Duke likely relying on a small lineup once again, Jackson will need to be at his best and provide the spark for a potent Blue Devil offense.
Michigan State: Guard Eron Harris
Despite averaging only 12.7 points per game thus far, the Spartans have a sleeping giant among them. Harris—a transfer from West Virginia following his sophomore season—is shooting better than 43 percent from beyond the arc and flashed major potential when former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine was sidelined last year. The redshirt senior averaged 17.8 points per game in Valentine's four-game absence and averaged 17.2 points per game in 2013-14 as a sophomore for the Mountaineers.
Harris struggled mightily against then-No. 2 Kentucky in the Champions Classic, going 1-of-3 from the field and registering two points in just 13 minutes. The 6-foot-3 guard did not fare much better against either of the Spartans' other two ranked opponents—Harris posted seven points against Arizona and three points against the Bears. Altogether, the Indianapolis native has knocked down only two shots beyond the arc in Michigan State's three toughest tests, all losses.
Although the Duke defense has been stout, the Blue Devils surrendered 16 long balls in their last two games. The Spartans may not be an offensive juggernaut, but if Harris can find his stroke, he has the potential to hurt Duke and give Michigan State an opportunity to snap the Blue Devils' 129-game nonconference home winning streak.
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A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak."