If Kemba Walker hadn’t decided to turn into Tiny Archibald in Maui, tonight’s Duke vs. Michigan State matchup (ESPN, 9:30 p.m. EST) would be a meeting of the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the nation.
Despite their blemished record, No. 6 Michigan State is still considered a Final Four favorite and regarded as the toughest challenge the defending national champion Blue Devils will face in the regular season. Currently, these are the top two teams in college basketball. How do they match up historically? Duke has four national titles to State’s two, and Duke has been in 15 Final Fours to State’s eight. But the Spartans have had one player who trumps anyone the Blue Devils have produced. Who has the edge?
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Magic Johnson, PG, 1979 — Carried the Spartans to the ’79 national championship, then went on to become the greatest point guard who’s ever played basketball. Averaged 17.1 points, 7.6 boards and 7.9 assists in college.
Shawn Respert, SG, 1995 — It doesn’t matter if you’re a 6-1 shooting guard when your range extends to 30 feet and you’ve got a magnetic connection to the rim. Respert dropped 25.6 points per game as a senior and was a Lottery pick before a bout with cancer cut his NBA career short.
Steve Smith, PG/SG, 1991 — At 6-7, he can be the third guard or small forward depending on lineups. Twice an All-American at State, Smitty put up 18.5 points, 6.1 boards and 3.7 assists in college before winning a championship ring and making one All-Star appearance in the NBA. He also won gold medals with Team USA at the 2000 Olympics and 1994 World Championship.
Zach Randolph, PF, 2001 — His average stat line in college (10.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) was about half of what he’ll do on a typical night in the NBA, but Z-Bo helped the Spartans to the Final Four in ’01.
Kevin Willis, C, 1984 — I’ve never been to the Michigan State campus, but I’m assuming the weight room is named after Kevin Willis. The Lex Luger of the NBA covering three different decades was good for 10.1 points and 7.1 boards in three years of college ball.
Bench — Morris Peterson (SF, 2000), Mateen Cleaves (PG, 2000), Greg Kelser (PF, 1979), Johnny Green (F/C, 1959), Scott Skiles (PG, 1986), Jay Vincent (F, 1981), Ralph Simpson (SG/SF, 1972).
DUKE BLUE DEVILS
Johnny Dawkins, PG, 1986 — Graduated as Duke’s all-time leading scorer and won the national Naismith Player of the Year as a senior, when he averaged 20.2 points and made 54.9 percent of his shots from the field as a point guard.
J.J. Redick, SG, 2006 — After he passed Dawkins as the school’s top scorer, Redick went on to claim the ACC’s career scoring title and the NCAA’s career high mark in three-pointers. Arguably the best shooter in college history knocked down 40 percent of his threes while averaging 19.9 points in his career.
Grant Hill, SF, 1994 — Two national championships, two All-American nods, was on his way to a surefire Hall of Fame career as a pro before injuries slowed him down. Hill posted 14.9 points, 6.0 boards, 3.6 assists and 1.6 steals at Duke.
Elton Brand, PF, 1999 — Before he was a No. 1 overall draft pick who established himself as a regular 20-and-10 guy in the NBA, Brand won the Wooden and Naismith national P.O.Y. trophies as a sophomore for the Blue Devils. That season he averaged 17.7 points, 9.8 boards and 2.2 blocks and led his team to the national championship game.
Christian Laettner, C/PF, 1992 — Even the biggest Duke hater has to give Laettner credit; he was one of the greatest college players of all-time who simply got it done in clutch situations. In four years Laettner (16.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg) played in four Final Fours and won two national championships and was the star of perhaps the most memorable “One Shining Moment” in NCAA history.
Bench — Shane Battier (SF, 2001), Bobby Hurley (PG, 1993), Carlos Boozer (PF/C, 2002), Danny Ferry (PF, 1990), Jay Williams (PG, 2002), Mike Gminski (C, 1980), Jon Scheyer (SG, 2010).
Who do you think would win?