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My countdown of national championship contenders continues as I take a look at Duke and Michigan State. I know that both teams have had some tough times but they have very talented rosters that can make a deep run in March.

Duke Strengths: A coach who just might be the greatest coach of all time in Mike Krzyzewski. An absolute offensive powerhouse in Jabari Parker. A second go-to-guy in Rodney Hood. Very efficient offensively (averaging almost 80 points per game). Great three-point shooting team at over 40 percent. Have the ability to share the ball well as a team. Multiple guys who can handle the ball. Good defensively (top 50 in scoring defense). Good foul-shooting team. Have multiple guys who can go get their own shot. More athletic team than last year, which allows them to pressureand lock down on the perimeter. Dangerous in transition.

Weaknesses: Not a big team (no starter taller than 6-9). Struggles at rebounding the basketball, they have been outrebounded in every one of their losses this season. They tend to lean too much on Jabari Parker too much at times. Also, they tend to gravitate towards one-on-one play too often causing them to be stagnant onoffense. Struggles against long, physical teams (Arizona, North Carolina). Can settlefor jump shots (5 guys have attempted 75 or more three-pointers).How to beat them: Must deny Parker and Hood the basketball in space, send double teams if possible. Let someone else beat you. Run Duke off the three-point line, make them a two-point shooting team. Make them play a half-court game, try to limit fast break opportunities. Beat them up on the glass!!! If you have a good post player, run your offense through them, make Duke pay for their limited size up front.

Michigan State Strengths: Another Hall of Fame coach in Tom Izzo (starting to notice a trend with these contenders and good coaches). Three-headed monster on offense who complement each other well in Gary Harris, Keith Appling, and Adreian Payne. Good three-point shooting team at almost 39 percent. Good defensively, teams are not shooting 40 percent on average against them. Disciplined team that does not turn the ball over often, only averaging 11 turnovers per game. They have multiple guys who can handle the ball and get others involved. Fifth in the nation in assists per game, so they share the ball well. Good rebounding team, especially defensively, they do not allow a bunch of second-shot opportunities. Experienced bunch that have played plenty of NCAA tournament games.

Weaknesses: Health!!!! When will we see Michigan State fully healthy? Without Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, they lose a legit post threat and guy who can defend multiple positions. Appling has missed significant time as well. Not a great foul shooting team, two starters shoot sub-70 percent, Branden Dawson shoots 58 percent! More athletic, but Coach Izzo I think wants his team to play tougher and more physical at times (struggled to stop Michigan in both meetings this year for example). They could stand to get to the foul line more, only 19 attempts per game.How to beat them: Have to get Michigan State in transition and be aggressive on offense. Don’t settle for jump shots because they defend the three-point line well. Match their physicality or exceed their physicality, the North Carolina game was a great example. Carolina’s bigs were able to physically impose their size on the Spartans, their frontcourt scored 51 of their 79 points. If a team has good big men, they have a chance to beat Michigan State. Try to foul Payne out, he is the key cog to this team in my opinion because of his offensive versatility. They are not nearly as effective on both ends of the floor if one of their Big 3 gets in foul trouble.Next time, I will look at Wichita State and Kansas. Yes, Wichita State has a shot to win a national championship and Kansas has the talent to win with Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid. I will dive into those two teams.

Trey Barrett, writer
hoopjargon.com

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