The Duke basketball team has its first major test of the 2017-18 season on Tuesday night as it faces Michigan State in the Champions Classic at the United Center in Chicago.
The Blue Devils and Spartans are No. 1 and 2 in the polls respectively, and it could be a preview of a potential Final Four matchup later this season.
Duke began the season with dominant wins over Elon and Utah Valley, while Michigan State kicked things off with a 98-66 victory over North Florida.
The game is scheduled to begin at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN. Here are five keys for the Blue Devils to head back to Durham with a victory.
1. The Freshmen Must Handle the Big Stage
As talented as Duke is this season, there are usually some growing pains when you rely on a rotation that includes four freshmen. This will be the first big test at the college level for Trevon Duval, Gary Trent, Wendell Carter, and Marvin Bagley, and we’ll see if they’re ready to handle the pressure of playing a top team in a unique atmosphere. They’re also facing an experienced Michigan State squad, which could be especially challenging in an early season matchup when Duke’s young players are still developing their chemistry.
2. Containing Miles Bridges
Duke may have the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on the court Tuesday night, but Michigan State has the favorite for the 2018 Player of the Year award in Miles Bridges. The 6’7, 220-pound wing was a likely lottery pick in this past summer’s draft but elected to return to school for his sophomore season and makes the Spartans a Final Four favorite. He’s one of the most complete scorers in the country and has a game that reminds me of Jabari Parker. Gary Trent Jr. will likely draw the assignment of guarding Bridges, but it could be a defense-by-committee approach with his playmaking ability.
3. Rebound as a Unit
Tom Izzo has established Michigan State as one of the toughest programs in college basketball by creating a culture and identity built around defense and rebounding. With size, experience, and depth, the Spartans will attack the glass and try to dominate the game in the paint. Duke has arguably the best frontcourt in the country, but when facing a team like Michigan State, being effective in the paint requires consistent effort from everyone on the floor. This means Grayson Allen and Trevon Duval will have to look for opportunities to help crash the defensive glass and limit second opportunities.
4. Avoid Frontcourt Foul Trouble
Duke has two likely lottery picks in its frontcourt with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter Jr. However, there’s always the risk, particularly in a big game like this, that freshman big men will be overly aggressive and excited and find themselves in foul trouble. Duke needs both to play extended minutes on Tuesday night. Javin DeLaurier could give the team depth off the bench, but I’ve yet to see any indication Marques Bolden is capable of making an impact against a quality opponent. Antonio Vrankovic is a reliable contributor when given the opportunity, but that’s a topic for another day. If Bagley or Carter has to spend much time on the bench due to fouls, it could spell trouble for the Blue Devils.
5. Poise Down the Stretch
This is the type of early season test that can be a great learning opportunity for a young team. It’s a neutral court, but we can expect Duke won’t get any support from the Kentucky and Kansas fans in attendance for the second game of the Champions Classic. If it’s a close game in the final minutes, the crowd will definitely be pulling for Michigan State. Whether it’s Grayson Allen showing his senior experience, Trevon Duval running the show as the point guard, or Marvin Bagley imposing his will as the most talented player on the floor, Duke will need poise and clutch play from its leaders. We’ll find out who’s ready to lead.
What’s your prediction for the game? Let us know on Twitter at @DukeReport.