After a disheartening loss to No. 12 Arizona Friday, No. 2 Duke men’s basketball will look to bounce back against No. 4 Michigan State. Before the contest, the Blue Zone highlights a player from each team who could be the difference-maker Tuesday night:
Duke: Jared McCain
When looking purely at box scores, one may be tempted to understate the importance of Jared McCain to this Duke roster. The freshman guard is averaging 8.5 points per game on 40% shooting — solid numbers but hardly noteworthy. Even so, it is clear to those who watched the Arizona game Friday night that he is due for a breakout performance.
At several key junctions in the contest, McCain exhibited composure befitting a veteran player. His team-leading three steals, coupled with four defensive rebounds over players nearly a foot taller than him, invigorated the Blue Devils in the second half. He also co-led the team in assists with five and added nine points to his tally, rounding off an outing that cemented him as a multi-dimensional player rather than just a pure scorer.
Whenever the squad was able to shift the momentum in their favor, it seemed as though McCain was at the center of their efforts. Be it a slick dish to fellow guard Jeremy Roach or a strong defensive possession, he was a difference-maker down the stretch. This sort of clutch production is difficult to quantify but imperative against top-level opposition. When the shots start to fall at a higher rate, McCain will find himself towards the top of opposing scouting reports.
Against the Spartans Tuesday, his hustle and poise will prove invaluable to a Duke team that is looking to cement its status as one of the top teams in the nation early on in the season.
Michigan State: Tyson Walker
Michigan State graduate student Tyson Walker has been one of the nation’s elite bucket-getters out of the gate, averaging 24.5 points through two games and shooting at a 54.5% clip. In the Spartans’ shocking opening-day loss to James Madison, fans would be hard-pressed to find fault with Walker’s performance. The 6-foot-1 guard dropped 35 points on the Dukes, adding five boards and six steals. He cooled off slightly in Michigan State’s win over Southern Indiana, notching 14 points while shooting 85.7% from the floor.
One of the few points of concern with his game early on has been his production from beyond the arc, where Walker is shooting at an ice-cold 14.3%. However, he has proven himself to be a capable 3-point shooter, going 39% from downtown over the first four years of his college career.
It is clear that a sizable chunk of the Spartan offense will come from Walker, so it is the responsibility of the entire Blue Devil squad to limit his impact. He’s shown an ability to score in the paint and from midrange, and he won’t be missing his threes forever. If left unchecked, this level of production will undoubtedly spell trouble for Duke. Should they manage to curtail Walker’s efforts, the Blue Devils may very well come out of Chicago with their second victory of the season.
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