Edson: MSU, U-M Can Out-Duke NCAA Foes

If you watched No. 1 seeded Duke’s tough 77-76 victory over No. 9 seeded Central Florida on Sunday evening, it left you feeling better about both Michigan State and Michigan’s chances of winning the NCAA basketball tournament.

Except for some late-game heroics by freshman Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, Duke would be heading home wondering what happened.

The Blue Devils aren’t heading home, of course, but they still have to be wondering just how much tougher the road will get in this tournament.

Ironically, my college hoop season began in Indianapolis four months ago when I watched Michigan State fall to No. 1 Kansas in the first game of a doubleheader, then saw Duke whip Kentucky in the second game.

That’s when I saw from courtside just how much talent this Duke team has. But here’s the rub:

Duke has great individual talent. Michigan State and Michigan have great blended talent. It’s called a cohesive team.

Both the Spartans and Wolverines still have a ways to go before they can start thinking about an NCAA title, of course.

Michigan State plays an LSU team that averages 81 points per game. So defense and rebounding will be at a premium if the Spartans want to advance to the regional final. If they do, they are hoping to get a shot at Duke.

Michigan, on the other hand, will play one of the best defensive teams in the country in Texas Tech. But the Wolverines are also a top defensive team.

So the MSU game should be a shootout and the U-M contest should be a defensive chess match.

LSU features four players who average in double figures. But the Tigers are making a deep tournament run despite the loss of their coach, Will Wade, who was suspended by the NCAA after an FBI wiretap incident. Interim coach Tony Benford has stepped in and done a masterful job.

On the other sideline, MSU Hall-of-Fame coach Tom Izzo leads the Spartans into their 14th Sweet 16 appearance in the last 22 years.

And Michigan is making another late-season NCAA run. The Wolverines – just like MSU – are rolling into high gear at just the right time of the season.

So this weekend will hold plenty of interest for college basketball fans.

As we saw this past weekend, just about anything can happen.

And both Michigan State and Michigan have what it takes to out-Duke their NCAA opponents and make it to the Final Four.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.