One hot pick as far as 2015 Final Four betting goes is the Duke Blue Devils. After all, they’ve already beaten two of this year’s Final Four participants in Wisconsin (80-70) and Michigan State (81-71). But if Duke is one of the favorites to cut down the nets in Indianapolis, head coach Mike Krzyzewski isn’t letting anybody know.
“I don’t know who expected us to be here,” Krzyzewski said. “We have eight guys and four freshmen. I think at times you expect a program to be here instead of looking at a team.”
Perhaps Krzyzewski is trying to make his team seem like they’re the underdog heading into tomorrow night’s contest against Michigan State. However, that’s kind of hard to do when you see what Michigan State has overcome to get here.
First off, Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling all graduated from last year’s Elite Eight squad. And this is a team that also looked like they’d have a tough time even making the tournament in December, after losing at home to Texas Southern 71-64 (OT).
But the Spartans turned things around and were able to land a No. 7 seed when selection time came. And while this isn’t exactly a recipe for a Final Four run, they are nevertheless here, ready to face No. 1 seed Duke. “Maybe it wasn’t as expected, we had a little rougher run during the year,” said head coach Tom Izzo. “When you get your program to a certain level, I think that’s our expectations, that’s what we want our kids’ expectations, the media and fans.”
So who has the edge? Let’s take a look at the game time and line, then discuss how things might play out.
Game Time: 6:09 pm EST, Saturday on TBS
Michigan State (-110)
Duke -5 (-110)
How will Jahlil Okafor step up?
Okafor is no doubt this game’s biggest star, having averaged 17.5 PPG and 8.7 RPG throughout the year. The 6’11” center from Chicago has played well enough this college season to solidify his status as a top-2 pick heading into the 2015 NBA Draft. But how will he fare in the now, against elite Final Four competition? He needs to do much better than the past two games, which have seen him score just 16 points combined on 7-of-16 shooting.
Which Senior Guard will emerge?
Senior guards are always important come March Madness time, and both teams have them. MSU has Travis Trice while Duke features Quinn Cook. The latter has averaged 14.5 PPG in the tournament while Trice has scored an even-more impressive 19.8 PPG (up four points from his season average).
Will Justise Winslow continue his Tear?
Freshman forward Justise Winslow has certainly played well in March Madness. After averaging 12.5 PPG and 6.3 RPG during the season, he’s averaged 14 PPG and 9.5 RPG in Duke’s four tournament games. His performance against Utah (21 points, 10 boards) was especially crucial in taking down Utah. So the question is, will Winslow keep elevating his game as the 2015 NCAA Tournament reaches its peak.
Can MSU make Free Throws?
So far, the answer has been yes. The last two games saw Michigan State hit 6-of-6 free throws against Oklahoma and 15-of-20 free throws against Louisville. However, they made just 63.2% of their attempts throughout the season and if these problems resurface, then they could be hurting against Duke.
Overall Prediction: Michigan State has done an excellent job to reach the 2015 Final Four after going just 23-11 in the regular season (27-11 now). However, it feels like the Cinderella run (if you can call it this for an MSU team) is about to end against Duke. Okafor will probably get back on track against the Spartans, and if Winslow has another good game, then it’s good night Michigan State.
Final Score: Duke 77 – MSU 65