Michigan State point guards Cassius Winston and Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. talk about facing No. 1 Duke. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
If you’re looking for storylines, look no further than Michigan State vs. Duke in the Champions Classic.
The top two teams in the early college basketball rankings will tip off at 7 Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago for the seventh installment of the annual event — No. 4 Kansas takes on No. 5 Kentucky in the nightcap — and the fact it happens to be a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2 is just one layer of what makes it such an intriguing early-season game.
That 1-2 battle would be big enough most seasons, but there’s much more.
Michigan State still remembers how poorly it played in the Champions Classic last season — Miles Bridges, in particular — when it got blown out by Kentucky in the first chance for a standout freshmen class to show what it was made of. They don’t intend to let the big stage get to them again this time.
There’s the showdown between two of the top freshmen in the country — Duke’s Marvin Bagley against Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr.
And then there’s the pitting of Hall of Fame coaches — Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo. It’s one that Krzyzewski has dominated, winning 10 of 11 games against Izzo, and one that doesn’t sit well with the Spartans’ coach, whose only win over the Blue Devils came in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.
“Every day,” Izzo said Monday when asked how often he thinks of his record against the Blue Devils. “It doesn’t sit very well with me. The truth of it is they’ve beaten us. There have been some fights, very few one-sided games. But that’s the next step for us. We have to learn to win big games on big stages. There’s no bigger stage than this tournament. There’s no bigger stage than playing Duke.”
That stage is where this Michigan State team hopes to shine. Other Spartan teams have in the past. In fact, it was in the Champions Classic in 2013 when Michigan State was last involved in a 1 vs. 2 matchup and its veteran crew knocked off a young and talented Kentucky team, 78-74.
But this year’s team had a hard time with the big games last season.
It suffered its worst loss in the Champions Classic last season to Kentucky, 69-48, as Bridges was 2-for-11 shooting with nine turnovers.
“I think that experience last year humbled everybody,” Izzo said. “It was a good experience. But last year was the one time it was a blowout game, and it was a blowout game because I don’t think we were ready for that stage. It was one of the few times that I can say that.”
A few weeks later, the Spartans were in Durham to take on Duke in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and were in a tight battle with the Blue Devils before an 11-0 run wrapped it up for the home team.
“Last year we played pretty well in that game,” sophomore guard Cassius Winston said. “We had that five-minute span that we just lost that focus. If we played 40 minutes of that game with our all we could have come out successful.
“The Kentucky game, that was new for us, a big game. I don’t know if that got to us but now we’ve been through it. Now we’re ready. We know what’s ahead of us and we know what it will be like our there.”
What it will be like is nothing new — two heavyweights going at it with the entire college basketball world watching. That’s what this event has become and the Spartans and Blue Devils measure up in the talent category.
Michigan State’s standout sophomores will be aided by size and depth while the impressive freshmen class at Duke has the benefit of senior and potential national player of the year Grayson Allen to fall back on when things get tough.
The interesting battle to watch will be Jackson and Bagley, the top-ranked recruit in the nation that Izzo said made the Blue Devils elite. He’s averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds in the first two games while the 6-foot-11 Jackson had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in Michigan State’s first game.
“I think Jaren is one of the better matchups for him,” Izzo said of the 6-11 Bagley. “It’ll be interesting. They’ve played against each other before. Bagley’s very good in the open court, handles the ball a little better than I thought. … I think it will be a good matchup.”
It all adds up to what should be a game that lives up to the anticipation. The last four games pitting the top two teams have been decided by four points or less, including MSU’s win over Kentucky, with the No. 2 team winning three times.
If that happens this time, Izzo will get that second win against Krzyzewski and this version of the Spartans will prove they’re comfortable on the big stage.
“I think we’ve both got good teams this year,” Izzo said. “I think we’re both young. We’ve got a few more sophomores, and they’ve got maybe arguably a player of the year candidate who’s a senior who’s been through four years of wars and is a very good player.
“We’ll see what we can do, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
NO. 1 DUKE VS. NO. 2 MICHIGAN STATE
Tip-off: 7 p.m. Tuesday, United Center, Chicago
TV/radio: ESPN/WJR 760
Records: Duke 2-0, Michigan State 1-0
Outlook: Michigan State and Duke are both 3-3 in the Champions Classic. … Michigan State is 4-19 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 with three wins in the last seven.
Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo will square off again when No. 1 Duke takes on No. 2 Michigan State tonight in the Champions Classic. Krzyzewski is in his 38th season at Duke while Izzo is in his 23rd at MSU. How the programs have fared under each Hall of Fame coach:
Conference tourney titles
NCAA Tournament wins
NO. 1 VS. NO. 2
The No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the Associated Press rankings have played 41 times. Here’s how the last 10 have played out:
Jan. 4, 2016: No. 1 Kansas 109, No. 2 Oklahoma 106 (3OT)
Nov. 12, 2013: No. 2 Michigan State 78, No. 1 Kentucky 74 (Champions Classic)
Feb. 23, 2008: No. 2 Tennessee 66, No. 1 Memphis 62
Feb. 25, 2007: No. 2 Ohio State 49, No. 1 Wisconsin 48
Dec. 10, 2005: No. 1 Duke 97, No. 2 Texas 66
April 4, 2005: No. 2 North Carolina 75, No. 2 Illinois 70 (national championship game)
March 27, 1999: No. 1 Duke 68, No. 2 Michigan State 62 (Final Four)
Feb. 5, 1998: No. 2 North Carolina 97, No. 1 Duke 73
March 30, 1996: No. 2 Kentucky 81, No. 1 Massachusetts 74 (Final Four)
Feb. 3, 1994: No. 2 North Carolina 89, No. 1 Duke 78
Most wins by active coaches in college basketball:
■ Mike Krzyzewski, Army/Duke, 1,073
■ Jim Boeheim, Syracuse, 1,005
■ Roy Williams, Kansas/North Carolina, 817
■ Bob Huggins, Akron/Cincinnati/K. State/West Virginia, 747
■ John Calipari, UMass/Memphis/Kentucky, 696
■ Rick Barnes, George Mason/Providence/Clemson/Texas/Tennessee, 636
■ Bill Self, Oral Roberts/Tulsa/Illinois/Kansas, 624
■ Lon Kruger, Texas-Rio Grande/Kansas State/Florida/Illinois/UNLV/Oklahoma, 602
■ Dana Altman, Marshall/K. State/Creighton/Oregon, 598
■Jim Larranaga, B. Green/George Mason/Miami, 583
■ Tubby Smith, Tulsa/Georgia/Kentucky/Minnesota/Texas Tech/Memphis, 576
■ Tom Izzo, Michigan State, 545