The 9th ranked Duke Blue Devils take on the 13th ranked Michigan State Spartans Tuesday night inside Cameron Indoor stadium for the annual State Farm Champions Classic. As you know, Crazies are not attending games and after a tough, rugged win against a feisty veteran-led Coppin State squad, some think Duke is vulnerable. The Blue Devils showed flashes of deserving their 9th rankings, but let’s be honest, these rankings don’t mean anything the first week in December. It’s Fools Gold. There have already been several upsets the season with Virginia and Kentucky both catching L’s to veteran led un-ranked teams. What does Duke have to clean up from Saturday’s opener to avoid the upset inside a “Crazie-less” Cameron Indoor Stadium Tuesday night? Here are my five keys to the game:
The Blue Devils committed 22 turnovers against Coppin State. The beginning of both halves consisted of turnover after turnover. Transition defense after the turnovers didn’t bode well with Coach K, who called immediate timeouts after Coppin State started the second half on a 6-0 run. Moreover senior Jordan Goldwire, known for being a pest on defense, committed two early fouls in the contest – limiting his playing time. His leadership and defensive prowess will be needed against the Spartans team who will look to attack the young freshman guard duo of Steward and Roach.
2. Pick and Roll Defense
Joey Baker and Matthew Hurt were exposed constantly by Juan Dixon’s Eagles team with their inability to guard the faster guards attacking the paint. The pick and roll and double high ball screen, which put both forwards at a disadvantage guarding the point guards, showed flaws that Izzo and the Spartans may look to capitalize on. Coach K said Saturday the game reminded him a lot of Stephen F. Austin – the veteran led team who defeated Duke in Cameron a year ago. Spreading Duke out and allowing quicker, craftier guards to create their own shot in isolation has been a recipe of beating Duke in the past.
3. Can Duke Survive Playing Small Ball?
In recent history, Duke has had a dominant and traditional big man in the paint. From Jahlil Okafor and Wendell Carter, to Vernon Carey – being able to establish your presence in the middle has made Duke, Duke! In their season opener, the Blue Devils played their version of small ball – putting sophomore Matthew Hurt at the 5. With Hurt’s ability to stretch the floor and knock down the 3, he’s a threat to the opposing teams center. Drawing the defender out the paint creates space for other guards to penetrate the basket for easy scores. This worked against Coppin State, but when facing a more experienced Spartan team, depth how will Coach K adapt? Are you chancing Hurt getting in foul trouble? Who will step up?
4. Jalen Johnson Ready to Take Over
Freshman phenom Jalen Johnson put up 19 points and 19 rebounds on Saturday, but that also included seven costly turnovers – slightly tarnishing his outstanding debut. One game into his freshmen campaign Johnson made it known he will not only compete for First Team All ACC and Freshman of the Year, but also ACC Player of the Year. He’s that good. His intangibles on both sides of the floor – scoring off the attack, knocking down the midrange, contesting shots at the rim. Jalen Johnson is the real deal. Can he cut down the seven turnovers against Izzo and company? Spartans Josh Langford and Joey Hauser will make Johnson earn every point.
5. Get DJ Off the Bench ASAP!
DJ Steward has the complete package. He can score from three. He can create his own shot and split the pick and roll. The freshmen guard plays defense and is capable of locking opposing guards down in a half-court defense. Not to mention, DJ scored 24 points with 9 rebounds off the bench in the Blue Devils’ opener. Get that man in the starting lineup ASAP Coach K.