There is no doubt whatsoever that the Duke Blue Devils and Coach K are among basketball’s royalty. There is no doubt that anywhere in the world, when the discussion of basketball greatness comes up at any level their name, or the name of their coach comes up.
They are used to entering arenas with a lead simply based on the name of the jersey and the intimidation that it brings. They are elite. But a funny thing happened on the way to Lucas Oil Stadium. They have run smack dab into the Michigan State Spartans. MSU is a blur collar team that doesn’t care.
Tom Izzo and his program are elite. They are tough and when the two teams take the court at 9:45 EST on Friday the Spartans will respect Duke, but certainly won’t be intimidated.
Duke is used to a lot of things and the intimidation factor is gigantic. Not this week. MSU is battle tested and they are looking for a fight. The Spartans will not only take a punch they will deliver one. This is the white collar Duke Blue Devils vs. the Blue Collar Michigan State Spartans.
Duke brings the air of white collar royalty which they are in college basketball and Michigan State brings the blue collar. It is Duke in $5,000 suits and MSU in hoodies. Duke likes Grey Poupon and MSU likes mustard packets from the Speedway.
All week the national pundits have been talking Duke. They should, they have earned it. I have this question, how is Duke going to handle Michigan State? The Spartans are going to be relentless. How are they going to take getting punched back? MSU will look at the bloody nose and laugh. They have the scars and the wounds. Duke will look at a bloody nose and ask what it is?
Tom Izzo gave Duke their respect. He said, “There’s no question, if you look at the NCAA Tournament and what’s been done, nobody’s Duke, because Duke is Duke. We are one of the closest things to it as far as consistency, and that should make for an incredible game”
Izzo said of Duke that, “In looking at Duke, you know, let’s face it, they are a No. 1 seed without (Ryan) Kelly, if one or two things didn’t happen in the end. You definitely with him, this is a team that’s 19 1 and been a 1 seed all along with him. Not that it really matters at this point in time of the tournament.”
Izzo didn’t say it directly, but you could tell that the LOVE for Duke was getting on his nerves. He likes that. He won’t do it at a press conference, but privately among his team he will point out the apparent disrespect. After giving Duke some love, he finally had to admit the obvious.
“I do think we matchup with them. Whether we can matchup and play with them, we are going find out, but we at least matchup with them fairly well. So you know, I’ve had appreciation for that program my whole career. Started when we played them in the game in Chicago and that led to the game in Tampa, and it has not changed since.”
He went on to add, “So I know what kind of program they have. I know how they do things and I appreciate them and I look up to them in that respect and yet it’s time now to play them and I feel a little differently about that, so I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
Izzo rightfully praised his team and put them right where they belong with Duke, in the same discussion. Izzo declared, “I think it’s important now that you get into this tournament and if the upsets happen and everything, it still usually gets down to the marquis teams and I think this will be one of the best match ups there will be. That’s what you want to play for. That’s if you want to be in it. I think we’ve earned that over our 15, 16 years of real great success, and so I’m anxious to see how that fairs for us.”
Coach Izzo was asked to break down Duke. He said of the Blue Devils that, “they don’t beat themselves very often. You would hope most good programs don’t, but that has been a staple. They don’t beat themselves. They usually have players that are very talented and that are mull I dimensional, guys that can dribble, pass and shoot.”
He went on to say, “They are usually a team that’s very stingy defensively. And yet, they always have been a great rebounding team, and this year, I wouldn’t say they are great, but I would say they are pretty solid if you get, you know, their horse back in there. Remember they played 13 games without one of their best defenders and without one of their better rebounders. So when you look at their stats even defensively, they are not quite Duke ish but ours have not been quite Michigan State ish either, if you look at stats, both in rebounding and in defense and field goal percentage.”
Izzo also said, “I just think that they have, “It”. They believe in themselves in the tournament. It’s part of the process there. He’s built that over 33, 34, 35 years, however long he’s been there. And I guess what I’ve always respected about him is I respected anybody who can do it over a period of time. To do it at the same school for that length of time, there’s only a few people in the country that I’ve ever known that have done that.”
This MSU vs. Duke Rivalry means more to MSU. Duke is 7-2 against Izzo but it doesn’t make the games any less important. Izzo said, “So that’s where the respect comes in, and plus, we’ve had some good games. You know, he’s a guy you can talk to. He’s been very good for basketball in general. Not only with the Olympics but all the time he was on the board, and he still gives great input. So yeah, I do have great respect for him, and yet, I think he appreciates that we are going to compete and they are going to compete.”
I was asked this week what makes Tom Izzo the machine in March that he is. I think he summed it up best. “We have been pretty consistent. They have been incredibly consistent. And in the meantime, they have won a couple national championships in that time period, and so the chase is still on and whether it be in recruiting or whether it be in games, but I think the good part about it is there’s a respect factor there in the way they do it and the way we’ve done it. And so I don’t think one beating the other, it’s not like an interstate football game that’s going to sway ten recruits one way or the other. But I do think that when you play in these games, it helps everybody; the university, the program and recruiting.”
Michigan is a blue collar state. We are proud of that. Hard work defines us. There is no shame in that. What I question is how Duke responds. Unlike last week vs. Memphis this is not Leonidas vs. Barbie. What it happens to be is Rocky vs. Ivan Drago.
It is the blue collar Rocky working out in Siberia and the Russian with all the toys and attention. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS VIDEO AND UNDERSTAND. It’s Duke representing Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Michigan State representing the dollar menu at McDonalds.
Duke looks at the mirror and sees muscles. MSU looks and sees scars. They know they are tough. Duke is watching film this week hoping they are tough. This battle will be epic and the toughness of MSU is what should push them over the top. Duke is a great program. MSU is a tough program.