When it comes to the remaining 12 teams in the NCAA tournament, there aren't two teams that have more head coaching experience, tradition and year-in, year-out excellence than Duke and Michigan State.
Lucky for us, the two college basketball titans will meet again in the Sweet 16 of the 2013 NCAA tournament. This meeting will be a chance to move on to the Elite Eight and face the winner of No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 12 Oregon.
Head coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo have both had their fair share of tournament success. Coach K is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, as his 956 career wins have also produced 11 Final Four appearances and countless other timeless moments in basketball history.
Izzo has been no stranger to the tournament, either, making it to his 11th Sweet 16 this season and extending Michigan State's tournament appearance streak to 16 seasons. The Spartans have been to the Big Dance every season since 1997-98, and won it all in the 2000 NCAA tournament.
This year, the players might be different, but the stakes are still as high. This will be the fourth meeting of the two teams in March, as Duke holds a 2-1 overall record, but Michigan State has the most recent win after a Sweet 16 upset in 2005.
Between Duke's assortment of NBA talent in Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry and Michigan State's own talent with Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne, this should be one of the marquee matchups of the tournament so far. Take a peek at the sections below to see what both teams need to do to move on to the Elite Eight with a Friday night win.
What: Sweet 16
Who: No. 2 Duke vs. No. 3 Michigan State
When: Friday, March 29, at 9:45 p.m. ET
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.
Keys to Victory for Duke
Duke has already proven itself as one of the grittiest teams in March with two tournament wins over Pacific and Creighton. The Blue Devils won ugly against the Bluejays, and did so by playing great defense on Wooden candidate Doug McDermott.
Additionally, the guard play—one of the biggest question marks heading into the Big Dance—has been outstanding. Curry leads the team in scoring after two games at 21.5 points per, and Rasheed Sulaimon scored a team-high 21 to help down Creighton in the round of 32.
Against Michigan State, the guards cannot disappear.
Who is Duke's biggest X-factor?
The Spartans match up well with the Blue Devils' attack on the perimeter, from Appling and Harris to reserve guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. However, Sulaimon's quickness and Quinn Cook's playmaking ability (or ability to not turn the ball over) will be huge against a Michigan State team with a ton of momentum after knocking off Memphis by 22 points.
Inside, Plumlee finds himself going up against Payne and Derrick Nix. The beefy combo has helped Michigan State lead the tournament in rebounds per game at 55-plus per contest—a ridiculous number. Plumlee has his hands full with the glass, but it's Kelly and his outside shooting that could be the X-factor for Duke in this game.
If he is stretching the defense and moving shot-blockers out of the paint, things start to open up for the rest of the Dukies. In particular, look for Curry's shooting number from the three-point line to directly impact how smooth the offense is running for Duke.
Keys to Victory for Michigan State
As mentioned in the section above, the Spartans have been absolutely dominating the glass inside. Payne and Nix are the front runners for that effort, but the guards have been going up against the trees, too, and it shows with the 55 rebounds per game mark—a number a clear six rebounds over the next closest team.
Against Duke, which was 17th in the nation in field-goal percentage, rebounding will be key yet again. If Duke is shooting with efficiency then rebound chances will be heightened. If the Devils are not, it's important to avoid a letdown after keeping one of the best offensive teams in the nation at bay on any given possession.
Expect Izzo to try and get Harris going early.
The freshman guard is one of the few Spartans with game-changing ability on both ends, and his efforts against Memphis (23 points, four three-pointers) helped down the Tigers in the second half of the round of 32 game while pushing the Spartans to the Sweet 16.
If Harris is struggling, Michigan State could be in trouble.
However, don't discount the tag-team duo of Payne and Nix. We know they get after you on defense, but on offense the two can be a matchup nightmare if Payne doesn't get too far extended from the basket and Nix uses his wide frame to create contact and scoring opportunities in the paint.
While Kelly's shooting is a key for Duke, it's also a key for Michigan State. No doubt Izzo knows the senior forward's outside shot helped spur Duke both before and after his injury, and running him off the three-point line will be part of the gameplan again when the two teams meet on Friday night.
All season, Duke has mystified us with its ability to overcome the Kelly injury and survive most of the ACC slate unscathed. There were a few hiccups, but Duke is yet again in the Sweet 16 against an old foe and has a full, healthy roster to boot.
While Duke may have the edge from a talent standpoint, Michigan State's talent is no slouch. Harris and Payne have both been lights-out so far, and Appling has multiple tournaments under his belt in his college career.
Who moves on to the Elite Eight?
However, I'll give Duke the edge in this game because of Kelly, eager to improve on his one-point finish against Creighton and get back to his old ways against Michigan State. Kelly could force the Spartans to go small and send Brandon Dawson on him on defense if he heats up, which could swing the game in Duke's favor.
Don't expect either team to pull away. With ACC and Big Ten experience in check and both teams employing future Hall of Fame coaches, this game should go down to the final buzzer. Duke's veteran squad will do enough to move on to the Elite Eight.