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Michigan State Battles No. 1 Duke In ACC/Big Ten Challenge

(From The Sports Network)

Two of the nation's premier programs meet in Durham this evening, as top-ranked Duke plays host to sixth-ranked Michigan State as part of the 2010 ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have certainly looked sharp in the early stages and have resembled a team that could very well successfully defend their national title. Duke has won all six games thus far, including a statement game against then third-ranked Kansas State a week ago. After winning the CBE Classic crown with that victory, Duke traveled to Portland over the weekend to take on Pac-10 foe Oregon. Like most of the opponents before them, the Ducks provided little resistance, as Duke rolled to a 98-71 decision.

Tom Izzo's Spartans are definitely going to give Duke a run for its money. MSU has won five of its six games, with the lone loss coming against UConn in the Maui Invitational last week. The team bounced back however in the event with a 76-71 victory over nationally-ranked Washington and then returned home this past weekend to take care of Tennessee Tech (73-55).

Duke has won five of the previous seven encounters with Michigan State, but it was the Spartans who won the last meeting, a 76-68 victory in the Sweet 16 in 2005.

The Spartans are not a flashy team by any stretch, but Izzo preaches perfection in execution and this year's squad follows. The team is averaging close to 80 points per game (79.3) and does so on .495 shooting, a number bolstered by .417 from behind the arc. Veteran guard Kalin Lucas is the undeniable leader on the floor for MSU and seems to be fully recovered from a torn Achilles' heel suffered in last year's NCAA Tournament. The 6-1 senior is shooting just over 50 percent from the floor (.507) and .478 from three-point range, leading to a team-high 17.5 ppg. Durrell Summers helps out from the perimeter with 15.2 ppg and .440 accuracy from long range, while forward Draymond Green (14.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg) gives the team balance up front. Summers scored 15 of his game-high 21 points in the first half, leading the Spartans to victory over Tennessee Tech last time out. Lucas added 15 points to the cause, while Green just missed a double-double with 10 points and nine boards.

Duke hasn't shown many chinks in the armor thus far and the team could actually be better than the one that won the national title last season. Whether it is at the offensive or defensive end, the Blue Devils have flourished. The team is shooting .504 from the field, en route to a hefty 91.3 ppg, while holding foes to just .388 shooting and 63.2 ppg. Scoring depth is obvious with five players currently in double digits. Nolan Smith leads the charge in the backcourt with 16.8 ppg. Kyle Singler is next in line at 16.2 ppg. Freshman Kyrie Irving has made an immediate impact with his 14.5 ppg and team-high 35 assists. Andre Dawkins and Mason Plumlee round out the top scoring threats at 11.7 and 11.0 ppg, respectively. Duke shot just 42 percent from the floor in the first half against Oregon, but still led by 15 points at the half. The Blue Devils turned up the heat in the final 20 minutes, converting 65.5 percent from the floor to keep the Ducks at bay. Singler was phenomenal, going off for 30 points. Smith and Irving added 18 and 16 points, respectively, while Dawkins came off the bench with 14.

Duke is an impressive 10-1 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with the lone loss coming last year at Wisconsin. Michigan State certainly has the talent to get the job done, but going against the defending champs at home, where they have won 80 straight non-conference games, might be more than the Spartans can overcome.