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Michigan State looks ripe for championship

Michigan State has size, bench and shooting to win the national championship.

College basketball experts cited Duke, Gonzaga and North Carolina as the three teams that can cut the nets and celebrate a national championship in Minneapolis on April 8.

The Auburn Tigers eliminated the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels 97-80 in the NCAA Midwest Region semifinals on Friday night in Kansas City. They supplanted UNC as a team that can win the national title if they shoot 3-pointers such as hitting 17 of them in their recent win and if their bench provides points.

Gonzaga made quick work of its tournament opponents in Fairleigh Dickinson, Baylor and Florida State to be in a position to clinch a Final Four berth Saturday afternoon when the Zags get an interesting challenge from Texas Tech in the West Region final. Duke has survived and advanced in its last two games against UCF and Virginia Tech, so the Blue Devils can be vulnerable.

Maybe  the Michigan State Spartans could actually be the team that prevents Zion Williamson and Duke from going to Minneapolis. They will get that opportunity Sunday afternoon at Capital One Arena when they play the top-seeded Blue Devils in the East Region final after disposing LSU 80-63 Friday night.

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Don’t laugh at the suggestion despite Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski being 11-1 against Michigan State coach Tom Izzo.

This Michigan State Spartans team appears to be a complete team that can beat anyone with size, depth and shooting. It was in full display on Friday night. They beat LSU by shooting 13 3-pointers and grabbing 41 rebounds. Their interior scoring wasn’t bad, either as they scored eight points in the paint. This comes after they dominated Minnesota last week to enter the Sweet 16. From that game, the Spartans turned this skeptic into a believer.

Not only the Spartans can beat Duke, but they can win the national championship.

For Michigan State to duplicate another clinical performance of an opponent, there’s something to say about that.

They started off like gangbusters by hitting four outside shots that spurred them to a 19-9 start in the first 13 minutes of the game.

Their biggest lead of the first half came when it was 40-23. From there, it appeared the game was all but over. The Spartans played so well to be denied of an Elite Eight appearance. They have been too good to blow this. Overconfidence wasn’t going to be a problem.

Sure LSU made it interesting by scoring the first eight points of the second half to cut the deficit to 40-36 after trailing 40-28 at halftime. Runs happen in basketball, so LSU had one in them. But it didn’t faze Michigan State.

Why would it be when they knew they could get a much-needed three when they needed it?

Sure enough, the Spartans went on an 11-0 run on a barrage of 3-point shots to make this a 56-41 game after LSU cut it to 45-41, and it was good night to LSU.

LSU figured it had the big men to keep up with Michigan State, but they looked like midgets compared to Michigan State’s green giants. Michigan State’s big men wore LSU’s big men out and they took it to LSU on the glass by out-rebounding them 34-20. At halftime, Michigan State had as many offensive rebounds as LSU had total rebounds.

At times, Michigan State frightened LSU when it came to boxing out, scoring and getting rebounds.

Michigan State’s performance gives Duke something to think about heading to Sunday’s game. Duke never faced a Michigan State team that has size in Aaron Henry, Xavier Tillman, Gabe Brown and Nick Ward. By going up against Michigan State’s plethora of big men, it will be a war of attrition. If the Spartans can wear Duke out like they did against Minnesota and LSU, they can win this game.

This the best Spartans team Izzo has to beat Duke.

For all the talk about Duke’s freshmen, Michigan State features couple of freshmen that can be impact players themselves. Henry finished with season-high 20 points on 9-of-14 shooting, eight rebounds and six assists while Gabe Brown scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting and four-for-six shooting from three-point range.

Freshmen prove to be integral when teams win the national championship in recent year. Duke gets it now, which is why Krzyzewski has been hot and heavy in getting one-and-done freshmen that can help him win national championships. Izzo has been proactive in getting those types of freshmen in recent years, and he may have found one in Henry and Brown. That also gives Michigan State a chance against mighty Duke.

Michigan State’s guard play should be a difference maker against Duke. Junior point guard Cassius Winston scored 17 points on 7-of-16 shooting and senior guard Matt McQuaid had six points. Those two experienced playing in the postseason as upperclassmen with Michigan State. They have seen it all, and that could prove to be invaluable against Duke.

The Spartans are better than people give them credit for. There’s a reason why they won the Big Ten Tournament. They did not go 28-6 this season for nothing.

Michigan State is peaking at the right time.

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