If the Michigan State Spartans are to beat the Duke Blue Devils on Sunday evening in Washington, D.C., the one thing they need more than anything else is for Cassius Winston to be the best Spartan on the floor for all 40 minutes.
If they get that, the Spartans can overcome the misfortune of being placed in Duke’s region.
Based on what happened Friday night in the East Regional semifinals against the LSU Tigers, Winston is entering this duel with Duke in a good frame of mind and in a healthy competitive rhythm.
Winston noticed that his teammates, especially Aaron Henry and Gabe Brown, were being treated with disdain by the LSU defense. The Tigers gave them 3-point shots early and often. Winston didn’t have to dominate as a scorer. He just needed to pass them the ball as any smart quarterback would. He ended with eight assists in the 80-63 win over LSU.
Winston’s coach took note of the selfless and tactically appropriate display by his quarterback.
“Cassius is my Tom Brady in a way because they keep changing receivers running backs and this and that, and he still just keeps winning,” Izzo said. “Cassius has done this all year. He’s the straw that stirs the drink.”
Winston doesn’t have to score a certain number of points or reach a certain number of assists to make Michigan State formidable against Duke. He isn’t easily confined to a numbers-based set of expectations or requirements. Winston has to be there at the defensive end of the floor, for one thing. At the offensive end, he has to make sure Michigan State gets the right shot against Duke’s defensive alignment and doesn’t commit live-ball turnovers which can lead to easy run-outs for the Blue Devils.
Virginia Tech lost to Duke primarily because of a series of turnovers in the second half, usually based on trying to make a fancy, low-margin pass into traffic. Winston has to make sure Michigan State throws clean passes and produces simple plays without the low margin for error which sank Virginia Tech.
In a year when Tom Brady won an AFC Championship Game on the road against a No. 1 seed, Cassius Winston will have to do something very similar on Sunday against Coach K’s crew.
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