Duke's upcoming game against Michigan State in Cameron Indoor is one of the most anticipated games of the early season.
Much like the Blue Devils' recent matchup with Kansas State in the CBE Classic, Wednesday night's Big Ten-ACC Challenge game could easily be a Final Four preview.
Duke comes into the game with a perfect record after winning consecutive games on the road against Kansas State and Oregon. They are the unanimous No. 1 team in America.
Michigan State started the season as the No. 2 team in the nation, but a rough showing in the Maui Invitational that included a loss to Connecticut and less-than-dominant wins against Division II Chaminade and Washington dropped them to No. 6 in the polls.
Even though this won't be the No. 1 vs. No. 2 game that everyone was expecting, it still has the potential to be an exciting contest that will serve as an excellent litmus test for where both Final Four favorites are at early in the season.
Here are five factors that could determine which team comes out on top.
1. Youth vs. Experience
Duke and Michigan State were both in the Final Four last year. They are both two of the most talented and deep teams in the nation, and they are both led by potential All-Americans and incredible coaches.
In other words, the Blue Devils and Spartans have a lot in common.
One thing that separates them, though, is experience.
Six of the nine players averaging double-figures in minutes for Tom Izzo's squad are upperclassmen.
Durrell Summers, Draymond Green, Korie Lucious and Delvon Roe have all played in multiple Final Fours, and Kalin Lucas would have if he hadn't gotten hurt in last year's NCAA tournament.
The Blue Devils, on the other hand, start two seniors, two sophomores and one freshman.
Those seniors happen to be Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith, two of the best seniors in the nation. After them, Miles Plumlee is the only upperclassmen who plays significant minutes for the Blue Devils. The other five players on the court with 10 or more minutes each game are either freshmen or sophomores.
To be fair, several of Duke's underclassmen played major roles on the championship team last year, and Seth Curry is a redshirt sophomore who spent all of last season practicing with the team. While the Blue Devils might feature a large amount of youth, it's experienced youth.
In a close game situation, the experience advantage of Michigan State could play a major factor in determining the winner of Wednesday night's game.
2. Point Guard Battle Extraordinaire
The Spartans and the Blue Devils both feature two of the best point guards college basketball has to offer.
Lucas is a well-known player to basketball fans.
The senior Michigan State star missed the last few games in the NCAA tournament last season with a torn Achilles tendon, but he is off to a great start this year.
Lucas is averaging 17.5 points per game to go along with 3.3 assists. He's also shooting a fantastic 47.8 percent from behind the arc.
Duke's Kyrie Irving is one of the new kids on the block, but he's already making a name for himself as one of the most explosive and dynamic point guards in college basketball.
He's averaging 14.5 points per game and 5.8 assists. He has a solid 2.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and, like Lucas, he's shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc.
Lucas can take over a game offensively—he's already scored close to 30 points in two games this season.
Irving can get into the lane at will and score in traffic. He got past preseason All-American point guard Jacob Pullen anytime he wanted when Duke beat Kansas State, and Pullen is no slouch on defense.
Both point guards have been fantastic so far this season. Which one plays better could be the deciding factor in the outcome of the game.
3. Home Sweet Home
"Taking the crowd out of the game" isn't a phrase that really applies to the Cameron Crazies.
The legendary Duke cheering sections have a lot to be crazy about this season, and they should be as electric as ever when the Spartans come to Durham.
The Blue Devils won every game at home last season. They haven't lost a game at Cameron Indoor since Feb. 11, 2009—that's nearly two years ago.
Michigan State is probably the best team to come to Durham in that time span, and they won't wilt just because Duke's fans are jumping up and down.
That being said, beating Duke on their home court is a daunting task for any team. The Blue Devils took a lot of pride in their perfect home record last season, and they are sure to feed off the energy of the crowd and come out ready to play.
The basket's always a little bigger in Durham for Duke, and the Spartans have an uphill battle ahead of them if they want to celebrate a rare win at Cameron Indoor for any team without the word "Duke" on the front of their jerseys.
4. Don't Let Them Shoot
Duke and Michigan State play different styles of basketball, but they aren't as different as fans might think.
In their last three games, both teams have had a similar rebounding margin. Both have averaged close to the same number of turnovers while forcing a similar number of turnovers on their opponents.
Even though the perception is that Duke relies more on the three-point shot than the Spartans, both take close to the same number of three-point attempts per game. In fact, in the last three games, Michigan State has shot 64 three-pointers (making 24) to Duke's 57 attempts (making 25). Both teams are dangerous from long range, shooting over 40 percent from behind the arc this season.
Whichever team defends the three-point line the most effectively may be the team with the best chance to win on Wednesday.
In their last three contests, the Blue Devils have held their opponents to 24.4 percent from three-point land.
The Spartans have allowed their last three opponents to shoot 36.5 percent from long range. In two of their last three games, opposing teams have shot over 40 percent from behind the arc.
Duke is the best shooting team Michigan State has faced all year. If they are looking for an upset, they'll have to do a lot better than that against the Blue Devils, especially at Cameron Indoor.
5. Going to the Benches (instead of "trenches," get it?)
The Blue Devils and Spartans both feature teams whose bench players would be stars at most schools.
For Duke, Andre Dawkins and Seth Curry would start for just about anyone in the nation.
Dawkins and Curry combine for over 20 points per game. They are both deadly outside shooters—Curry is shooting 47.6 percent from long range and Dawkins tops that with a ridiculous 55.2 percent on the year.
For Michigan State, Draymond Green and Korie Lucious provide experience and fantastic production off the bench. They are Michigan State's third and fourth highest scorers respectively.
Green is a versatile forward who can fill up the stat sheet in just about every category. He leads the team in rebounds, steals and blocks while scoring 14 points per game.
Lucious is Lucas' understudy at point guard. He's not a great scorer, but he does a lot of things that don't show up in the box score to help the Spartans win.
Michigan State also has two talented freshman in Keith Appling and Adreian Payne to add even more depth.
Fans of both teams can expect guys like Smith, Singler, Lucas and Summers to have big games. In the end, though, it could be whichever bench who makes the most noise that determines the winner.
Without doubt, this will be one of the most telling games of the early season.
Both the Blue Devils and the Spartans came into this season with a lot of hype and both are expected to make a deep run in March.
Michigan State is a great team with a good chance to win, but it's hard to predict a Duke at home after the way their season has started.
No matter the result, both teams will be better and more prepared for the rest of the season because of this game.
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