Even if Mike Krzyzewski wanted to, he won’t have much time to bask in the afterglow of his 1,000th career win at Duke.
Less than 72 hours after accomplishing what no other men's college coach ever has, the Blue Devil head coach will have to rally his troops and prepare to face No. 2 Michigan State Tuesday in one of the most anticipated matchups of the season across college basketball.
Duke will take on the Spartans at 7 p.m. at the United Center in Chicago in just the 42nd No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the AP poll era. A Blue Devil team that will start four freshmen for the first time since 1982-83 will have to grow up quickly in what will be the biggest stage any of them have ever played on.
Can the Blue Devils get over the hump? We discuss the five biggest questions heading into what could be the Blue Devils biggest test this season.
Can the freshmen handle the moment?
Heading into the season, Grayson Allen logged more than 70 percent of the returning minutes from last year’s squad—and took nearly all of the meaningful ones. Now, freshmen who haven’t had to play under the spotlight of high-level college basketball will have to rise to the occasion.
These were the games that Duke’s blue-chip recruits signed up to play for—and now it’s time for them to prove that they’re up to the task.
“You definitely come to Duke to play big-time games, play in front of big crowds,” point guard Trevon Duval said. “It’s that time, it’s time to go and I think we’re all ready.”
The early returns from the Blue Devils' No. 1 recruiting class have been promising—especially for Duval. He has shined as Duke’s floor general, turning the ball over just once in his first two games and dishing out a whopping 20 assists.
Marvin Bagley III has led Duke by averaging 24.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game, and Gary Trent Jr. has been lights out from the floor. Despite looking impressive in exhibition play, Wendell Carter Jr. has not separated himself from Javin DeLaurier due to foul trouble, with both earning roughly the same amount of minutes—though Carter certainly has played well.
Who’s going to guard Miles Bridges—and can he be stopped?
Last season, senior Matt Jones locked down the 6-foot-7 wing and physical freak, holding Bridges to single digits—one of three times he failed to score 10 points all year. Now, with Jones in the NBA G League, someone is going to have to step up and take on the national player of the year favorite.
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The elite scorer and knockdown 3-point shooter will be one of the biggest tests all season for Duke’s defense, presenting major matchup problems with his combination of size and athleticism in the backcourt. At 6-foot-6, Trent will likely be called upon to guard Bridges, but whether he will be able to stop him like Jones did is anyone’s guess.
"Matt did a really good job of making him uncomfortable at the beginning and kind of sending him to our help, which was our game plan last year," Allen said. "This year, we have guys that can match up with him physically, we just have to make sure we get the best perimeter defender on him because he steps outside so much.... Gary can do a good job. I believe we have a bunch of guys on the team. I think I can do a good job."
It will likely be a matter of slowing Bridges down, not shutting him down. Trent is not touted as an elite defender, but does have a 6-foot-8.5 wingspan that gives him the tools to guard players with Bridges’ size.
If Trent is out of the game, Allen and his fire likely would be called upon to take over on Bridges. Even at 6-foot-10, Bagley could also guard Bridges if Krzyzewski opts to run out a three-post player lineup.
Outside of Jaren Jackson Jr., does Michigan State have enough size?
Although the Spartans are certainly set on the wing with Bridges, they might not have the size to keep up with Duke’s towering roster. Outside of Jackson Jr., a 6-foot-11 forward and the No. 9 overall recruit in the 2017 class, Michigan State’s tallest rotation player stands at 6-foot-8—sophomore forward Nick Ward.
Against a Blue Devil team that could roll out up to three players at a time at 6-foot-10 or taller, Tom Izzo’s squad will have to make up for its lack of size with speed and grit. Ward was an elite post scorer for the Spartans as a freshman last year, but his defense doesn’t match his offensive skills—he’s not explosive or particularly athletic. He might be physical, but Duke's bigs will be more athletic—and bigger.
Outside of Ward, 6-foot-9 forward Gavin Schilling and 6-foot-7 forward Kenny Goins could get reserve minutes behind Ward and Jackson, but neither made a big impact last season. If Bagley, Carter, DeLaurier and even Marques Bolden can exploit Michigan State’s lack of size down low, it could be the difference in the game.
Can Duke’s bench be productive?
The Blue Devil bench scored the team’s last 13 points against Utah Valley—but that was it. They failed to make an impact when the game was still competitive, an area of concern for Krzyzewski’s squad against a Spartan team that plays with a much deeper rotation than Duke does.
Although it could be just DeLaurier and Bolden off the bench—if that—the Blue Devil reserves will need to be ready to make an impact when they get a chance to see the floor. With players coming in and out more often, Michigan State might be able to bring more energy than Duke—when the bench takes over, it will have to get up to speed quickly.
Krzyzewski played Bolden against Utah Valley despite saying a day earlier the center would be out with strep throat. Duke would certainly benefit from having a healthy Bolden available to spell Carter or Bagley in a pinch.
Can the Spartans shoot from long range?
Entering the season, questions swirled about whether Michigan State had enough outside shooting. So far, those concerns have not been quelled.
In their season-opening win against North Florida, the Spartains finished an abysmal 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. They will have to get better from long range if they want to hang with Duke, which is capable of scoring points in bunches.
Joshua Langford shot 41.6 percent from 3-point land last year, but no one else shot better than 40 percent in 2016-17 for Michigan State. Matt McQuaid, who was second on the team in 3-pointers attempted last season, shot just 35.0 percent and went 1-for-5 against North Florida.