You’re not going to see a better coaching duel than when Tom Izzo and the third-seeded Michigan State Spartans face coach Mike Krzyzewski and the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils in a Sweet 16 matchup in Indianapolis this Friday at 9:45 p.m.
Coach “K” has an overall record of 6-1 vs. Izzo, however in the NCAA tournament, both coaches have a record of 1-1.
Izzo will have junior point guard Keith Appling at his disposal when he tries to grab his second NCAA tourney victory over Krzyzewski. Appling injured his left knee in the Spartans 65-54 opening-around victory over Valparaiso, and in their third-round win over Memphis, the junior briefly popped out his right shoulder, re-aggravating a previous injury.
Appling had a solid game in the Spartans win over Valpo as he had 15 points while shooting 50 percent and grabbing 6 rebounds, but against Memphis, Appling went 1-of-4 from the field for two points, two turnovers and two assists.
If the thrill of a Sweet 16 appearance isn’t enough, Michigan State freshman Gary Harris may have some extra motivation due to the fact that he will be playing approximately 16 miles from his hometown of Fishers, Ind. when the Spartans and Blue Devils face off. Despite being new to the “big dance,” Harris has adjusted well to tournament play and has been one of the Spartans most efficient offensive players. In the Spartans victories, Harris is averaging 16.5 points per game and shooting 50 percent from the field (10-20) and 50 percent from beyond the arc (6-12).
While it will be intriguing to see how Harris reacts to playing in his backyard and how Appling bounces back from his game against Memphis, the matchup to watch will be MSU’s frontcourt tandem of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix vs. the Duke tandem of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.
Nix is averaging nearly 18 points and 11 rebounds in his last three games while shooting nearly 62 percent from the field. Payne is averaging 10.5 ppg, 7 rpg and 2.5 bpg in the NCAA tournament, and showed a lot of energy on both ends of the floor against Memphis. The frontcourt of the Spartans has been huge to their success thus far in the tournament, but still, they haven’t faced big men the caliber of Duke’s quite yet.
Mason Plumlee has had a solid tournament and an even more impressive 2012-2013 season. The senior from Warsaw, Ind. is averaging 17 points and 10 rebounds per game, and in the tournament his numbers are 16.5 ppg and 6.5 rpg. But the most impressive stat has to be his efficiency scoring the basketball thus far in the tournament as Plumlee is shooting 72 percent from the field (13-of-18).
Plumlee’s partner in crime, senior Ryan Kelly, has performed well since returning from a serious foot injury that kept him out for nearly two months. Since his return, Kelly is averaging about 13 points and 5 rebounds in his six games back, however, he has not had nearly the impact in the NCAA tournament that Duke faithfuls would have hoped. In his first two games Kelly has scored a combined nine points and grabbed a total of 10 rebounds, and in his last outing against Creighton, Kelly went 0-for-5 from the field while only grabbing four rebounds.
This game will be a meeting of two of college basketball’s most elite programs and two of the sports best coaches, and while this game is huge for both schools, I think the Spartans need this one a little bit more, and it will show on Friday.