DURHAM, N.C. -- It's the school ranked first in all sensible preseason polls vs. the school ranked second in most preseason polls. It's Hall of Fame coach vs. Hall of Fame coach. Elite point guard vs. Elite point guard. Cameron Indoor. ACC/Big Ten Challenge. I could go on and on, but you get the point that Wednesday's showdown between Duke and Michigan State is a must-watch for college basketball fans and a must-attend for college basketball writers.
So I'm attending and I can't wait.
I'll be courtside for the nationally televised tipoff.
Here are four storylines for this game featuring two Final Four teams:
1. Power program/coach vs. Power program/coach
Kentucky is the all-time winningest program. UCLA has more titles than anybody. But an argument could be made that no two schools have been more consistently dominant in recent years than Duke and Michigan State, and that no two coaches are better at what they do than Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo. Coach K leads active coaches in national titles (4) and Final Four appearances (11) while Izzo has one national championship and six Final Fours in the past 12 seasons. Both men have rejected multiple offers to move to the NBA, Izzo's decision to pass on a huge contract from the Cleveland Cavaliers last June serving as the latest example. Their approaches are different, personalities opposite. But one thing Krzyzewski and Izzo have in common is that they're true icons of the sport still operating at an elite level. To watch them against each other in person should be a treat.
2. Duke's quest to finish undefeated
It's still a longshot, and I doubt it'll happen. But if the Blue Devils win this game (Duke is a 10-point favorite, by the way) they'll have wins over No. 5 Kansas State, No. 6 Michigan State and be the owners of a remaining schedule that includes no more games against teams ranked in the latest Associated Press poll. Clearly, at N.C. State (Jan. 19) will still be tricky, and two of the final three regular season games are at Virginia Tech (Feb. 26) and North Carolina (March 5). But barring a notable injury, Duke won't be an underdog in any game this season. So get ready for a discussion about whether the Blue Devils can finish undefeated provided they handle Michigan State convincingly.
3. Kyrie Irving as America's best point guard
BYU's Jimmer Fredette and Kansas State's Jacob Pullen received much of the preseason hype, and Connecticut's Kemba Walker is the star of this young season. But ask NBA general managers for the name of the first guard likely to be selected in June's NBA Draft, and the answer you'll get most often is Duke's Kyrie Irving. Simply put, he's been better than advertised, and the advertisement was incredible. The freshman point guard is averaging 14.5 points, 5.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds while shooting 49.1 percent from the field, 40.9 percent from 3-point range and 92.3 percent from the free throw line. Irving is so good, in fact, that I'd give the edge at point guard in this game to Duke even though Michigan State's Kalin Lucas is more experienced and the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year.
4. This could decide the ACC/Big Ten Challenge
The Big Ten takes a 4-2 advantage into the final day of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge but remains the underdog in the event because ACC schools are favored in four of Wednesday's five games. Assuming everything goes as planned, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be tied 5-5 when the Spartans and Blue Devils tip at 9:30 ET. So this game could decide things, and such a scenario would have fans from Ohio State, Indiana and Purdue gathered around televisions rooting for Michigan State while fans from Virginia, Florida State and North Carolina -- OK, probably not North Carolina -- pull for Duke. Thus, the timing of the game could make the stakes higher than they already were, and they were already pretty high given the stature of the schools, players and coaches involved.