Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski demand a level of perfection from their players, making them two of the most successful coaches in NCAA history.
While Michigan State has struggled in various areas this season, Duke has played as close to perfect as Krzyzewski could have hoped.
The defending national champion and top-ranked Blue Devils host Izzo’s sixth-ranked Spartans in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday night looking to extend their 80-game non-conference home winning streak.
Krzyzewski leads all active coaches with 11 Final Four appearances, while Izzo ranks third with six in just 15 seasons. They’ve faced each other five times, and though Duke has won four of those matchups, Izzo has the most recent victory - a 78-68 win in the regional semifinals of the 2005 NCAA tournament.
Michigan State hasn’t beaten Duke in the regular season since 1958, and accomplishing that feat Wednesday may prove to be a difficult task.
The Blue Devils (6-0) have trailed for a total of two minutes and 18 seconds this season and by no more than two points. They’re outscoring opponents by an average of 28.1 and giving up only 63.2 points per game.
The backcourt duo of senior Nolan Smith and freshman Kyrie Irving has accounted for over one-third of the team’s 91.3 points per game, averaging 31.3 combined.
Duke cruised to a 98-71 victory Saturday against Oregon despite matching a season high with 19 turnovers. Senior forward Kyle Singler tied his career high with 30 points for the Blue Devils, who have won 16 straight dating back to last season.
“I’m very pleased with how we played,” Krzyzewski said. “Oregon played their hearts out. They spread you out and pressure you, and I thought we handled it well. We turned it over too much in the last ten minutes of the first half and the beginning of the second half, but our effort was good.”
While Krzyzewski hopes Duke protects the ball better against Michigan State (5-1), Izzo may be having nightmares over his team’s mistakes.
“I’m going to go to sleep tonight thinking about turnovers,” Izzo said Sunday after the Spartans committed 17 in their 73-55 win against Tennessee Tech. “The turnovers and the missed free throws are concerning - very disappointed in our guard play early. … We can use all the million excuses about looking ahead or travel, but I’m very disappointed.”
Michigan State, which had been coming off an appearance at the Maui Invitational that included a 70-67 loss to Connecticut in the semifinals, was 9 of 16 from the free-throw line Sunday and ranks 10th in the Big Ten at 64.7 percent.
The Spartans held a 38-33 advantage on the boards, but they’ve only outrebounded three of six opponents. They led the nation in rebounding margin the past two seasons, but hold only a plus-2.0 edge this season.
“I don’t think this team respects (rebounding),” Izzo said. “Hopefully we’re going to be able to watch some film and show them what it’s costing us, but that’s why this is a good game (against Duke), because if we do learn to respect it, we’ll play well. If we don’t learn to respect it, we’ll get embarrassed.”
Against Tennessee Tech, Durrell Summers scored a game-high 21 points and Kalin Lucas added 15, but Izzo is looking for more from his squad.
“Who needs to step up?” Izzo said. “Probably all 11 guys that played any minutes need to step up, to be honest with you.”
Duke’s non-conference home winning streak is the second-longest in school history. Its previous streak lasted over 17 years and 95 games, when another Big Ten team - Illinois - ended the run with a 75-65 win on Dec. 2, 1995.
The Blue Devils won their first 10 games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before losing 73-69 at Wisconsin last Dec. 2.