Following a rough home stretch over Thanksgiving break, Duke heads north to East Lansing, Mich., to take on the Michigan State Spartans Tuesday night in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Blue Zone analyzes a key player for each team in a rematch of last season's Elite Eight:
Duke: Forward Matthew Hurt
The freshman from Minnesota put together arguably the best performance of his young Duke career in the Blue Devils’ 83-70 victory over Winthrop Friday. Hurt poured in a career-high 20 points in Duke’s bounce-back win including a 2-of-4 mark from three, showcasing his ability to stretch the floor. The freshman has the athleticism and the skillset to take advantage of smaller defenders on the interior in addition to drawing elite rim protectors out of the paint. Hurt’s elite shooting ability opens up driving lanes by Tre Jones, Alex O’Connell and Wendell Moore Jr.
Michigan State’s half-court defense has a tendency for packing the paint on drives to the rim, and the Spartans are extremely disciplined in their help defense. With Duke utilizing pick and rolls with Tre Jones and Vernon Carey Jr., Hurt’s presence on the perimeter opens up the lane for Carey rolling to the basket. Once Carey establishes himself inside, the double-teams that he draws will leave Hurt open on the outside. This will put the Michigan State defense in a bind, and if Hurt proves to be effective from the outside once again, the Spartans will be forced to adjust their post defense on Carey as well as their help defense on the pick and roll.
Michigan State: Forward Xavier Tillman
Tillman, who's averaging 12.3 points 10.0 rebounds per game, has been a force on the interior for an experienced Michigan State team. Duke has been effective on the defensive glass throughout the season, but Tillman’s elite rebounding ability will test the Blue Devils. While Duke’s half-court defense has been stellar for the majority of the year, its inability to prevent Stephen F. Austin from attacking the offensive boards resulted in extra possessions during the Lumberjacks' upset victory.
Tillman’s play on the interior will force Carey to play effective defense without fouling, which is always a challenge for young big men. The junior from Grand Rapids, Mich., also blocks an average of one shot attempt per game. This will force the Blue Devils’ guards to adjust their attempts in the paint, something that Moore and O'Connell have improved on already since the beginning of the season. Overall, Tillman’s rebounding and rim protection poses a tough early-season challenge to Duke on the interior.