March Madness Final Four: Duke Blue Devils vs Michigan State Spartans Preview

Jahlil OkaforThe top seeded Duke Blue Devils take on the seventh seeded Michigan State Spartans for a spot in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game (6.05pm ET, Saturday on TBS).

The Blue Devils are favored by 5.5 points on the sportsbooks’ spread and have gone through the entire tournament without much of a scare. In fact, of all the top seeds, Duke has been the least challenged, even if they were considered the weakest of the four #1s.

In Michigan State however, Duke will likely face its biggest challenge. Despite their low seeding, the Spartans are perennial players come March. This year was no different especially after Michigan State’s region opened up with the losses of top seeds #1 Villanova and #2 Virginia. Unlike Duke, Michigan State has won each of their tournament games by less than eight points.

Here are some of the storylines followed by our betting picks and predictions for this NCAA March Madness Final Four game.

Can the Spartans Overcome Final Four Slump?

When it comes to the March Madness tournament, there is no coach who prepares his team better than Michigan State’s Tom Izzo. In his 18 seasons with the team, the Spartans have made the tournament every year including reaching nine Elite Eights and seven Final Fours, which is two more than any other coach during that stretch. Additionally, Izzo’s Spartans have won 13 games against higher-seeded teams, which is more than anyone in the history of the tournament.

This seems to go without saying, but one shouldn’t bet against an Izzo coached team, especially as they are more likely to reach the NCAA Final Four than go home in the first weekend. However, it is when it comes to that Final Four, that all bets are off.

Michigan State has won just one championship in Izzo’s tenure, back in 2000 and has reached just one more in 2009. Their 2-5 record in Final Four appearances is not very promising and despite the Spartans success as the seventh seed thus far, could be a cause for concern. There is a recurring pattern here and one that no doubt has influenced the sportsbooks’ betting lines.

Unfortunately, there is no reason to expect that Izzo’s crowd will be turning over a new leaf, especially with how good Duke has been this March. Now granted, Duke did have the easiest road to the Final Four on paper, but Michigan State’s became pretty easy as well. They haven’t faced a great challenge yet and they haven’t faced a team with the kind of size and athleticism the Blue Devils have. All of that changes on Saturday.

Can Duke’s Backcourt Handle another Off-Night from Jahlil Okafor?

Duke star and projected top pick in this year’s NBA Draft, Jahlil Okafor (pictured), has been the team’s version of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in this tournament.

In the first two games, he led the team with a combined 37 points, done so by going 21-of-27 from the floor. But in the last two, he hasn’t been anywhere near as good. The competition has gotten harder and Okafor’s stats have suffered as a result. He hasn’t scored double digits since that second game.

But despite Okafor’s up and down performances, Duke has still managed to win with relative ease.

That is in large part because of the unheralded efforts of Tyus Jones, who has contributed 30 total points in the last two contests. Throughout the season, Jones has been the go-to guy in games where Okafor has looked less than perfect. This pattern has continued throughout the tourney as Jones as shown himself to be invaluable.

But Jones hasn’t been alone. His backcourt mate, fellow guard Quinn Cook, has scored in double digits in each of Duke’s four games. Cook has been a major part of Duke’s defensive renaissance, another reason why the team has gotten so far in the tournament.

Cook and Jones have been considered one of, if not the best, backcourt in the nation. But against a strong team like Michigan State, against their biggest test of the tournament, can even that stellar backcourt survive if Okafor continues to be off?

Duke Blue Devils vs Michigan State Spartans Betting Picks & Predictions

Earlier in the year, shortly after the preseason rankings revealed Duke as the fourth best team and Michigan State way down at 18, these two teams faced off in a pretty good game. Duke opened the game with a huge lead and although Michigan State kept it close in the second half, the team was never able to overcome the early deficit. The Spartans lost by a score of 71-81. Okafor scored 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting as Michigan State had one of its worst defensive performances of the season. Additionally, they turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 24 Duke points.

Needless to say, this isn’t the same Michigan State team. They’ve gotten a lot of that early season rust off and have been one of the best and hottest teams as of late. But unfortunately for them, being hot only takes you so far and as the history shows, for Izzo, that is typically to the Final Four.

Michigan State has had another great year but the history will repeat itself. Duke has been solid and is championship-bound. So take the Blue Devils to win outright but take the Spartans to cover the spread as we expect a close encounter. Our betting picks are:

  • We advise you bet on the Michigan State Spartans +5.5pts @ betting odds of -115 with Bovada Sportsbook. You could get slightly better odds of -105 if you forfeit the half point & take +5pts with BetOnline Sportsbook.
  • Both teams are defensive as well so take the under on 138 total points for the game. Again the best odds are with Bovada @ -105. It is -110 for under the same total with BetOnline and 5Dimes.
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