Blue Devils looking forward to heavyweight showdown
It seems appropriate that two of the most successful programs in recent college basketball history would face off at some point in the NCAA Tournament. But No. 2-seed Duke (29-5) will take on No. 3-seed Michigan State (27-8) a bit earlier than most anticipated in the Sweet 16 on Friday night at 9:45 p.m.
Duke has played a tough schedule this year and is 13-2 against this year’s NCAA Tournament field. Duke is 4-1 against the remaining Sweet 16 teams as well. In an early-season tournament in the Bahamas, Duke won three games against teams that eventually made the field of 68, including top-seeded Louisville, a team Duke could face Sunday.
“I don’t know if the schedule of it prepares you as much as just the experience of playing that level of team,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have an outstanding record against an outstanding schedule. (Michigan State is) the next outstanding team.”
The Blue Devils will be returning to Indianapolis and Lucas Oil Stadium, which was the scene of their last national championship in 2010. While Duke has made the Sweet 16 twice since that title, counting this year, it hasn’t advanced past that round.
From 1998-2006, Duke made the Sweet 16 every year and advanced to at least the Elite Eight four times, going to two Final Fours and winning a national title. But since 2007, Duke has made three Sweet 16 appearances and failed to reach that round three times.
Senior Mason Plumlee doesn’t want to go out that early again, and he felt that sense of urgency when he picked up his fourth foul with 17 minutes to
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go against Creighton last Sunday night. He senses his younger teammates are starting to understand that, too. At one point in the game, he was yelling in the huddle and trying to get his teammates fired up.
“I just think there’s a no-nonsense type attitude on our team right now,” Plumlee said. “Whatever is said, it’s not personal. It just needs to be said and we just address things quickly. It’s just all about winning. We don’t have time for people’s feelings and stuff like that.”
One Blue Devil who got that message was freshman Rasheed Sulaimon. He had been struggling but his play has really picked up in the postseason and it’s earned him a spot back in the starting lineup. He defended Creighton point guard Grant Gibbs and scored 21 points.
With Sulaimon back on track, the only Blue Devil left to worry about is Ryan Kelly. The senior defended Creighton star Doug McDermott very well, holding the All-American to one of his worst shooting performances of the year.
But Friday will be Kelly’s seventh game since returning from a foot injury and he’s still not back in game shape completely. He had 36 points against Miami in his first game back, but he has 43 points in the five games since combined and isn’t shooting very well.
“Ryan played a great game, I thought, against Creighton. ... He’s still not into shape to play great,” Krzyzewski said. “Ryan, the longer we play, he has a chance to get in better shape. It’s tough to be a real good scorer with tired legs. When you’re playing that well defensively, you’re exerting a lot of - you don’t bring in an offensive team when the defense is done. You’ve got to play everything in our sport. My feeling is that he’ll be fine. He’s allowed to shoot and if he shoots and misses and we lose, I’ll be all right with that.”
Plumlee said that the longer Duke gets to reintegrate Kelly into its offensive attack, the better off the team will be.
“I think each week is an advantage for us. The deeper we go, the better we get,” Plumlee said. “I think his shot is going to come. People are talking about how he’s not hitting shots but he’s hitting them in practice, so it’s only a matter of time.”
Duke is 7-2 against Michigan St. all-time (7-1 under Krzyzewski) and 2-1 in the NCAA Tournament. The lone NCAA Tournament loss came in 2005, the last time the two played each other in the Tournament. It was also in the Sweet 16.
“It’s really two of the best programs over the last long period of time, so it’s a big-time game. Their guys are good. Our guys are good,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s going to be an honor being in such an elite game. Hopefully, we can do well in it.”