With star sophomore Miles Bridges returning for a second season, and talented big-man Jaren Jackson joining this talented Michigan State squad, the Spartans find themselves playing in the most anticipated matchup of this early college basketball season.
No. 2 Michigan State will battle the top-ranked Duke Blue Devils on Tuesday night in Chicago (7 p.m., ESPN), in the first game of the two-game Champions Classic at the United Center.
“Hopefully this is why our players came here, to play against the best people,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “I think it’s good for us, our university, our fanbase and the city of Chicago.”
Although the Spartans were an inexperienced and youthful team a season ago, they’re no stranger to the big games on the biggest stages. MSU lost a one-possession game last season in Hawaii to Arizona in their season-opener, before traveling across the country to get ran out of Madison Square Garden to Kentucky in the Champions Classic.
Having gone through that daunting task with one of the younger teams in the country, a year later, MSU is looking to learn from those tough early stretches and build on that that this season.
“I think that experience last year that humbled everybody was a good experience,” Izzo said. “We’re hanging right in there with everybody else, and I think we’re ready for the stage this year.”
With both teams winning convincingly in their home openers on Friday, Tuesday’s matchup features the 42nd 1-vs-2 matchup in the AP Poll’s history.
The Spartans had only one fine-tuning game before this matchup, waxing North Florida 98-66 on Friday night. Bridges led the way with a game-high 20 points, going 9-of-15 and pulling down 10 boards.
Izzo started his cast of sophomores and freshman Jaren Jackson with his experienced group of Kenny Goins, Matt McQuaid, Gavin Schilling and Tum Tum Nairn Jr. coming off the bench. The starting unit combined for 74 points on a 25-of-40 shooting performance.
The Blue Devils have the newest sensation in college basketball in freshman Marvin Bagley III. After being rated the top recruit in the 2018 class, Bagley reclassified to the class of 2017, and committed to Duke in August. Bagley set a Duke freshman record when he scored 25 points in their season opener against Elon.
“The addition of Bagley at the end took a great team to elite level as far as talent,” Izzo said. “With the talent-laden group that they already had, to add a player of his caliber in there has been overwhelming in some ways.”
Duke is one of the younger teams in basketball, with four freshman surrounding Grayson Allen, the lone senior in the starting lineup, and certainly the biggest villain in basketball. Joined by two more five-star guards in Trevon Duval and Gary Trent Jr. and forward Wendell Carter Jr., the Blue Devils certainty present one of the more talented starting units.
“Allen lit us up as a freshman in the Final Four and has kind’ve just hung in there,” Izzo said. “He [Allen] is a very very electric player that can get it going.”
All five of Duke’s starters went for double-figures in their Sunday win over Utah Valley, with Bagley leading the way again in scoring with 24 points and 10 rebounds. There’s no question that the Blue Devils are as talented as anyone in the country, but they’ll have a big stage Tuesday to show they can get the job done in their first big test of the season.
“They have two knockdown shooters that are shooting way over 50 percent from the three and arguably the No. 1 player in the country in Bagley,” Izzo said. “We’re excited about it, we know it’s going to be a heck of a challenge.”
Tomorrow’s meeting marks the 14th all-time meeting between Michigan State and Duke, with the Blue Devils leading the series, 11-2. The teams met last season in the ACC/Big Ten challenge, with Duke coming out on top 78-69.
The Spartans have a 3-3 record in the Champions Classic, including a 2-0 record at the United
Center. Michigan State is just 4-19 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll, but the Spartans have won three of their last seven meetings against the nation’s top team.
Experience and depth, with one of the deeper benches in the nation, tends to favor the Spartans, but the teams are as even as can be when it comes to sheer talent on the floor. Tuesday’s matchup between two of the college basketball bluebloods should feature the most entertaining non-conference basketball game of the season.