In a meeting of two of the most storied college basketball programs and head coaches in the country, the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils and No. 7 Michigan State Spartans will clash in Saturday night’s national semifinal at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The Spartans and head coach Tom Izzo are the tournaments sole darling left, and it’s their first visit to the national semifinal since 2010. However Izzo has yet to guide one his teams to a championship since 2000.
For Blue Devils and head coach Mike Krzyzewski it’s there 16th trip to the Final Four, but the national title game has alluded the program since its last title back in 2010.
The winner advances to the title game and will play either No. 1 Kentucky or No. 1 Wisconsin on Monday night.
And though each side wound up in the same place at the same time in a long time, they took very different routes to get there.
Despite Izzo’s proven track record in the tournament, the Spartans weren’t projected to get out of the tournament’s first weekend. Yet they bumped off the East Region’s No. 2 Virginia, No. 3 Oklahoma and Rick Pitino and No. 4 Louisville with a squad loaded with upper classmen.
Seniors Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson have helped the Spartans overcome some difficult losses early in the season, including Nov. 18’s 81-71 letdown to Duke and overtime and blowout losses to Big Ten foes Maryland, to now stand on the cusp of the third national title in school history.
The Spartans are a team built around taking the best shot, not who scores most, as evidenced by their 17.1 assists per game, the fourth-highest rate in the country.
On other side sits a freshmen-laden Duke squad, one unlike any Krzyzewski’s taken to the Final Four. The first-year class includes top NBA prospect and big man Jahlil Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones and recently blooming forward Justise Winslow.
Jones and Okafor have received most of the adulation, and while it’s been much deserved, Winslow’s production over the last four games has propelled the Blue Devils past the likes No. 5 Utah in the Sweet 16 and No. 2 Gonzaga in the Elite Eight.
The 6-foot-6 Winslow has showed off all his skills throughout the tournament, starting with 11 rebounds and seven assists against No. 16 Robert Morris, and then two straight double-doubles versus No. 8 San Diego State and then the Utes. Later against the high-flying Bulldogs, Winslow notched 16 points and five rebounds as well.
And even though he could join Okafor in the NBA next season, Winslow told reporters he’s squarely focused on the tournament and Duke’s success.
“I mean, it’s March,” Winslow said. “It’s now or never. … I’m preparing better than ever for the games. I’m just really focused and locked in, and really excited to play.”
Tipoff: 6:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: TBS
Live Online: A live online stream is available at March Madness Live here
Betting Odds: Duke -5.5
Over/Under: 138 points
Prediction: Duke over Michigan State, 70-61