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)?



The case can be made for both.

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.

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.

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Villanova’s best win came this week over Gonzaga in New York at the Jimmy V Classic, where the Wildcats were the dominant team. This is the one win that is against a likely NCAA tournament team. Ultimately, Tennessee may get there (I think the Vols will) so that win in the Bahamas will age well. So, too, may the win over Northern Iowa in the Bahamas title game. Western Kentucky could be one in the plus column as well if the Hilltoppers get out of Conference USA as the representative. Still, it’s a shame the Wildcats missed out on playing Arizona or Purdue in Nassau.

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).

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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

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Miles Bridges hasn’t been 100 percent healthy but has All-American potential. Josh Langford and Jaren Jackson Jr. could be household names by the end of the season. Langford can score in a variety of ways and Jackson is a versatile player who can score inside, step out and make a 3, and block shots. Villanova has a newfound star – in a familiar name to Nova fans – in Mikal Bridges, who waited his turn to become the next great Nova player. Jalen Brunson falls in line as one of those steady point guards who flourishes under Jay Wright. Omari Spellman could blossom into one, but not yet.

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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.

Andy Katz is an NCAA.com correspondent. Katz worked at ESPN for 18 years as a college basketball reporter, host and anchor. Katz has covered every Final Four since 1992, and the sport since 1986 as a freshman at Wisconsin. He is a former president of the United States Basketball Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter at @theandykatz. Follow his March Madness 365 weekly podcast here.

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