Duke’s loss at Boston College to open ACC play Saturday afternoon opened up the following debate for the first time of this young season:
Who should now be No. 1?
Michigan State (8-1) or Villanova (9-0)?
Duke has to drop down, even though the Blue Devils remain one of the handful of favorites to win the national title.
Duke certainly played with fire at times this season, needing to come back against Portland State, Texas and Florida in the PK80 in Portland over Thanksgiving week. And then again against Indiana.
But the Blue Devils won all of those games.
Losing to a Boston College team — yes, even on the road — that was without its top rebounder in Deontae Hawkins (who will be for the season due to a knee injury), means there is no way the Blue Devils can hold the top spot Monday in the AP poll or in the NCAA.com Power 36.
DOWN GOES DUKE!— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) December 9, 2017
Boston College does the unthinkable and UPSETS No. 1 Duke, 89-84 in ACC opener! pic.twitter.com/OFoo10n8VQ
Let’s dive into the cases for both the Spartans and Wildcats.
Strength of schedule: Edge to Michigan State
The Spartans played Duke on a neutral court in Chicago and lost. They crushed North Carolina, giving up just 45 points on a neutral court. They coasted to an 18-point win against Notre Dame when the Irish were undefeated and coming off a Maui Invitational title. Michigan State's 2-0 Big Ten start came against two teams not likely to be in the NCAA tournament, if the projections are correct, but the Spartans are 2-1 right now against possible tournament teams.
Defense: A wash
Michigan State is holding teams to 61.1 points a game and the 45 it held North Carolina to in Portland was one of the top defensive performances of the season. Villanova is limiting teams to 62.8. And when a tournament title was on the line in the Bahamas, the Wildcats shut Northern Iowa down to just 50 points (similar to the Spartans doing the same to win a PK80 bracket).
Offense: Edge to Villanova barely
The Wildcats do hold an 86.6 to 79.3 edge over the Spartans in terms of points per game. But it’s fair to argue the schedule plays a bit of a role here. Still, the Wildcats are shooting a hair better at 50 percent compared to the Spartans' 49 percent from the field.
Star power: Slight edge to Michigan State
Experience: Edge to Villanova
Veteran players in today’s college basketball can be sophomores. So, the Spartans can claim Miles Bridges, Langford, Cassius Winston and Nick Ward in this category. But the Spartans don’t have Villanova’s experience. Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth won a national title and multiple Big East championships.
The pick: Michigan State
This is a tough, tough, tough call right now after witnessing the Spartans’ win over Notre Dame and Nova’s win over Gonzaga, two of the most impressive victories to date for each team. But the Spartans' schedule of who they beat and when they beat them gives Michigan State the slightest advantage. Michigan State would/should be No. 1 and Villanova No. 2 but it may as well be 1 and 1A. Oh and Duke wouldn’t drop off a top line if you’re filling out a bracket at home.