FINAL: No. 10 Duke 87, No. 11 Michigan State 75.— Gary Parrish (@GaryParrishCBS) December 4, 2019
I could not have been more wrong about this one. Thought for sure the Spartans would show up — especially at home against a short-handed Duke team. Instead, it was just another poor performance for the preseason No. 1.
It's a stunning outcome.
No. 10 Duke, a week removed from its most embarrassing home loss in school history, the defeat as 28-point favorites to Stephen F. Austin, goes into East Lansing, Michigan, for the first time in 16 years and wipes the floor clean with No. 11 Michigan State. The final: 87-75, Blue Devils. A 12-point win that felt double that margin.
What was promoted as the biggest game of the first week of December got some wet-blanket treatment with Duke and MSU losing the previous week. And then this puppy looked over by halftime and was for sure over with 14 minutes to go. On the night Michigan State honored Draymond Green at halftime by rising his No. 23 to the Breslin Center rafters, the Spartans put forth an effort not identifiable with Green's college career.
And hundreds of fans left their seats before the game even got to the under-4:00 timeout.
The 11th-ranked Spartans are now 5-3, making their first eight games one of the poorest in college hoops history for a preseason No. 1 team. Duke is 8-1 and just acquired a win to balm away much of the sting of the SFA loss.
Three takeaways below on a dud of a game and where the teams go from here.
1. Michigan State isn't broken, but it's stretching at the seams: Remember, MSU got a scare from Georgia after losing to Virginia Tech at the Maui Invitational. On Tuesday, we saw a Duke team with a high ceiling -- but without its No. 3 scorer, Cassius Stanley -- get what it wanted early and often. MSU looked physically overmatched. Without Xavier Tillman available (foul trouble early), the Spartans were handicapped. Cassius Winston's a wonderful point guard and can be the best player in the sport, but he was overwhelmed and physically outmatched many times. Aaron Henry is a player with promise who can't find consistency.
The Spartans' schedule has been tough, no question, but this is looking like a team badly overrated in the preseason. No Josh Langford until at least January also hurts, but for real: If Winston is asked to carry the Spartans, that's too big of an ask. MSU has an opportunity to get right in the coming weeks with winnable games against mid-major fodder.
Barring a horrid loss, we'll check in again in 2020, when Big Ten play gets going in earnest.
2. Vernon Carey Jr. could be as good as any freshman big Duke's had in 15 years: The big-bodied center came into Tuesday's game averaging 18.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. Those averages went up, as he had 26, 11 and three blocks and got some breathing time in down the stretch. Carey's looking like he can be as valuable and useful of a big as Jahlil Okafor and Marvin Bagley Jr. were in recent seasons. Frankly, he's outperforming expectations to this point. This season was supposed to be about Tre Jones leading an eclectic freshman class that lacked as much punch and pizzazz and Zion and Co. a year ago.
But Carey's got punch and some dynamism to his game. He doesn't shoot 3-pointers often, but when he takes it, it's been good news: 4-of-5 from 3-point range this season, is Carey.
3. More of that Tre Jones, please: Carey and Jones are both playing at All-American levels at this point. It's hard to say who the more valuable player is, really. Jones had 20 points, 12 assists and three steals vs. the Spartans and looked terrific most of the night, too. He had a dazzling pass in the second half on a transition that, for me, perfectly depicted why he's crucial to Duke's Final Four hopes. Though Jones lacks a reliable jump shot even still, the way he can turn defense into offense is matched by only a few players in the sport. Simply put, if Jones and Carey combine for nearly 50 points, 15 rebounds and more than 10 assists -- and avoid foul trouble -- Duke is going to win more than 85% of its games in those instances. This can become a top-tier inside-out duo in college hoops.