On the first Tuesday of December 2019, Duke traveled to East Lansing, Mich., and beat Michigan State 87-75 in what was one of the Blue Devils’ signature victories of last season.
And on the first Tuesday of this December, the 13th-ranked Spartans will head to Durham looking for a statement win of their own against the ninth-ranked Blue Devils. Here are five things to look for when the two teams take the Cameron Indoor Stadium floor Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
Watch out for Spartan veterans
In what is an oddity for modern college basketball, Michigan State’s rotation consists exclusively of non-freshmen, with its starting lineup made up solely of juniors and seniors. However, this does not mean you should expect to see a similar Spartan team compared to the one the Blue Devils defeated last year—two members of head coach Tom Izzo’s current starting lineup, Joshua Langford and Joey Hauser, sat out the entirety of the 2019-20 season.
Langford emerged as a star guard for Michigan State in the 2018-19 campaign before injuries forced him to sit out the second half of that season and all of 2019-20. The Alabama native will turn 24 in January, meaning he is nearly five years older than Duke star freshman Jalen Johnson.
Hauser played the 2018-19 season at Marquette, averaging 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game en route to a Big East All-Freshman team nod, but was forced to sit out last year due to NCAA transfer rules.
Langford and Hauser are not the only veterans with impressive resumes at Izzo’s disposal, with versatile junior forward Aaron Henry leading the rest of the bunch. Henry has actually started against Duke on two prior occasions, though he scored just six points across the two contests.
Can Johnson establish himself as a NPOY Award candidate?
After a tumultuous senior year of high school caused him to plummet down recruiting rankings, Johnson emphatically proved why he was a top prospect in the first place in Saturday's season-opener. The 6-foot-9 freshman simply dominated the Eagles, putting up 19 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks on a perfect 8-of-8 from the field.
Johnson was not on many people’s radars for National Player of the Year before the season, but if he can keep up the hyper-efficient, all-around dominance against the Spartans, that will change.
Will Tapé and Williams get more run Tuesday?
Heading into the season, it looked like the Blue Devils’ top lineup would not include a traditional big man. Through one game, head coach Mike Krzyzewski has stuck to the plan. Freshman center Mark Williams played just four minutes Saturday, while graduate transfer Patrick Tapé did not see the floor at all.
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Michigan State certainly will pose a bigger threat inside than Coppin State did—Hauser has been a menace on the boards so far, picking up 25 rebounds in just 46 minutes of action. But 6-foot-11 reserve big Marcus Bingham is the Spartans’ only rotation player over 6-foot-9, so perhaps Tapé and Williams will continue to get cozy on the Cameron sidelines.
Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers
Lost in Johnson’s brilliance in Duke’s season-opener was that he turned the ball over seven times. That number led the Blue Devils, who committed an unsightly 22 turnovers overall. Obviously the do-it-all freshman’s playmaking far outweighed his mistakes against Coppin State, but if he continues to turn the ball over at this rate, that could be a problem for Duke.
If Michigan State can force Johnson or other turnover-prone Blue Devils like sophomore Wendell Moore Jr. into uncomfortable situations, that could be the Spartans' recipe for an upset in Durham.
Don’t stop the music, DJ Steward
Johnson looked like he may be the best freshman in the country Saturday, but he didn't even lead his own team in scoring. That honor would go to fellow freshman DJ Steward, who scored 24 points on a team-high four 3-pointers. Steward looked like a walking bucket and convincingly made his case to supplant junior Joey Baker as the go-to offensive spark plug.
Steward did pick up nine rebounds as well as a block and a steal against the Eagles, but his 6-foot-2, 163-pound stature may pose some problems against beefier teams. Luckily for the explosive newcomer, Michigan State has two fellow smaller guards in Foster Loyer and Rocket Watts, so Steward should see significant minutes again.