Heading into a busy weekend of college basketball, there needed to be contingency plans with the power rankings. With Arizona State traveling to in-state rival -- and conference favorite -- Arizona, there was a good chance we would need a new No. 1 team in the country.
Villanova seemed a likely choice. The Wildcats were No. 2 behind Arizona State and had wins over Gonzaga and Tennessee.
But then they gave up 101 points to Butler on Saturday afternoon and lost to the Bulldogs for the third straight time.
So for the second time this season, we can't just look to No. 2 when No. 1 loses. When Duke lost to Boston College in December, Kansas was stringing together two losses to Washington and Arizona State. That week, we went all the way down to No. 13, jumping Arizona State to the top spot.
We don't need to do that again this time around -- with Michigan State and Duke obvious contenders to move to No. 1. The Spartans and Blue Devils have been considered two of the three best teams in college basketball since the preseason, and they played on a neutral court back in November, with Duke winning by seven despite Marvin Bagley playing just 10 minutes.
Even with that result, Michigan State is the new No. 1.
Since that Duke game, there has been zero debate as to what the most impressive team in the country is. Michigan State has won all 12 games since then by double digits, including 18-point victories over North Carolina and Notre Dame. You can say the Spartans haven't done much of anything else, but they've dominated for the past six weeks, and their lone loss was to the Blue Devils.
Duke still has the highest ceiling in the country, along with wins over Michigan State and Florida State, but the Blue Devils just haven't looked good in weeks -- and have a loss to Boston College.
Michigan State is clearly playing better basketball right now. As a result, the Spartans are our new No. 1 team.
1. Michigan State Spartans
Last week: 3
The Spartans haven't really had a test since losing to Duke, but Big Ten play resumes this week -- although four of their first five conference games will be at home. Moreover, Michigan State doesn't have to travel to Purdue this season. There's a chance that Tom Izzo's club holds on to this spot for several weeks moving forward.
2. Duke Blue Devils
Last week: 4
Duke still looks subpar on defense, allowing dribble penetration far too easily and far too often. Still, the Blue Devils are able to overcome their issues because they're so talented on offense. Trevon Duval's performance down the stretch against Florida State was a huge positive.
3. Arizona State Sun Devils
Last week: 1
It's hard to penalize Bobby Hurley's team too much for a loss at in-state rival Arizona, but the Sun Devils do drop a few spots. One can say that Arizona State, even in a loss, proved its nonconference performance wasn't a fluke. Something to beware of, though: The Sun Devils now go on the road to Colorado and Utah, a low-key, difficult road trip.
4. Villanova Wildcats
Last week: 2
Here's a good one from ESPN Stats & Info: Villanova has lost five games the past two seasons. Three of them are to Butler. Something about the Bulldogs consistently bothers Villanova -- but Jay Wright's teams bounced back from those Butler losses to win by double digits in their next game. Sorry, Marquette.
5. Xavier Musketeers
Last week: 6
Xavier just keeps marching along since losing to Arizona State in Las Vegas in November. Winning at Marquette isn't easy, and coming back from down 16 in the second half to beat DePaul moves Chris Mack's team into the top five. The Musketeers seem to get production from someone new every week, to go with anchors Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
Last week: 10
Trae Young and his buddies move up a few spots after going to TCU and handing the Horned Frogs their first loss of the season. Young went for 39 points and 14 assists -- and it's up for debate whether that was one of his top three stat lines of the season. The Sooners now have impressive wins over TCU and Wichita State, with a lone loss to Arkansas in the other column. Three of their next four games are at home, too.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
Last week: 8
North Carolina didn't let the home loss to Wofford spiral into a multiple-game streak, taking care of business against Ohio State and Wake Forest. We'll have a different take on the Tar Heels next week, as they're now heading on the road to Florida State and Virginia. A couple of wins there, and Duke might have competition for the ACC title.
8. Purdue Boilermakers
Last week: 9
That 25-point win over Arizona back in the Bahamas continues to grow in stature, and the Boilermakers have a slew of solid power-conference victories to go along with it. Carsen Edwards has brought a whole new dimension to Purdue's attack this season, averaging 22.3 points and 3.0 assists in his past four games.
9. Arizona Wildcats
Last week: 15
Back in the top 10 for the first time since losing three in a row in the Bahamas, Arizona is still the Pac-12 favorite after beating Arizona State on Saturday night. Rawle Alkins' return to health has been a huge boost, with 20-plus points in two of his first five games back. The Wildcats' defense is also looking better in the past month.
10. Texas A&M Aggies
Last week: 5
Texas A&M got dominated by Alabama on Saturday, losing by 22 -- and will face Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee in three of its next four games. The bigger concern, though, is the Aggies' lack of bodies. Admon Gilder is still out with an injury, and DJ Hogg will miss another game with a suspension. Expect inconsistency until everyone is back.
11. Wichita State Shockers
Last week: 11
Markis McDuffie played only 25 minutes combined in his first two games back from injury, but he was aggressive on offense and seemed to be taking steps forward. The Shockers have a surprisingly tough test on Thursday, when 12-2 Houston comes to town. Will we see Landry Shamet and Rob Gray go head-to-head?
12. Kansas Jayhawks
Last week: 12
If Kansas is going to make 17 3-pointers and shoot nearly 50 percent from behind the arc every game, it is likely to win another Big 12 title. Sounds unreasonable, but that's what it took to win at Texas last week. We'll see if the Jayhawks can get a frontcourt and depth boost with freshman Silvio De Sousa or transfer Sam Cunliffe.
13. West Virginia Mountaineers
Last week: 13
The Mountaineers are now on a 12-game winning streak after holding off Oklahoma State late in their Big 12 opener. All eyes are on Saturday, when "Press Virginia" gets its shot at Trae Young and Oklahoma. How will Young deal with Jevon Carter -- and vice versa? Bob Huggins will make sure his guys don't overlook Monday night's road trip to Kansas State, though.
14. TCU Horned Frogs
Last week: 7
TCU dropped its first game of the season to Oklahoma on Saturday, and it allowed the Horned Frogs' résumé to be dissected a little bit more. And well, there's just not a lot there right now. The wins over SMU, Nevada and St. Bonaventure are solid, but they have yet to beat a team from another power-six conference.
15. Virginia Cavaliers
Last week: 14
Virginia survived both Boston College and the clock issues at the end of Saturday's game, and now the ACC tests really begin. The Cavaliers travel to in-state foe Virginia Tech, then come home to host North Carolina. It's still tough to figure out Virginia right now, as the Cavaliers haven't beaten anyone in top-25 consideration and lost to only West Virginia.
16. Arkansas Razorbacks
Last week: 21
Mike Anderson's team has a better profile than most people seem to think, and beating Tennessee in overtime adds to that résumé. The Razorbacks have wins over Oklahoma and Tennessee plus a solid victory over Minnesota. The lone losses are to North Carolina and Houston, with the latter not looking so bizarre anymore.
17. Gonzaga Bulldogs
Last week: 17
And so begins Gonzaga's annual run through the West Coast Conference. The Bulldogs opened up conference play with a 33-point win over Pacific and a 49-point win over Santa Clara. They likely won't be tested until Saint Mary's comes to town on Jan. 18 -- although the road trip to San Francisco on the 13th won't be a cakewalk.
18. Kentucky Wildcats
Last week: 18
Things are starting to come together for John Calipari's Wildcats, although a 29-point win over Louisville isn't what it used to be. More importantly, Kentucky really defended on Friday, contesting shots, not letting the Cardinals get anything easy. The key offensively is still shooting the ball; Kentucky made 46.2 percent against Louisville.
19. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last week: 20
The Red Raiders should probably get a bigger bump after blowing the doors off Baylor by 24 in their Big 12 opener. But the big question for Chris Beard's team is how it performs on the road. They went 0-9 on the road in Big 12 play last season, and haven't won -- or played -- a true road game yet this season. That changes on Tuesday, at Kansas.
20. Tennessee Volunteers
Last week: 16
If Tennessee could close out games more effectively, the Volunteers would be pushing for a top-10 spot. They blew a late nine-point lead over the weekend at Arkansas, falling in overtime to the Razorbacks. This is on top of the nine-point second-half lead they lost against North Carolina earlier in December. The Vols are legit, though.
21. Seton Hall Pirates
Last week: 24
That loss to Rutgers in mid-December looks worse by the day, especially after the Scarlet Knights lost home games to Stony Brook and Hartford last week. But Seton Hall came back to beat Creighton on Thursday, adding another top-25-type victory to a ledger that also includes Texas Tech. Road games vs. Butler and Marquette are up next.
22. Miami Hurricanes
Last week: 22
Miami's two best wins are Minnesota and Middle Tennessee -- at some point, the Hurricanes need to beat someone in order to stay in the rankings. Wednesday's road trip to Georgia Tech won't do that, but a three-game stretch against Florida State, Clemson and Duke will tell us a little bit more about Jim Larranaga's team.
23. Creighton Bluejays
Last week: 23
Seton Hall snapped Creighton's six-game winning streak, but the Bluejays bounced back with a win over Providence. Creighton is very likely a top-four team in the Big East, and the Bluejays get to host fellow top-four threats St. John's and Butler in the next eight days. Freshmen Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock have provided solid perimeter punch off the bench.
24. Clemson Tigers
Last week: 25
Clemson stays in the rankings this week after handling NC State in the ACC opener -- and the Tigers will likely be favored in each of their next three games as well: at Boston College, vs. Louisville, at NC State. There's a chance Clemson is 15-1 before Miami comes to town in mid-January. Brad Brownell has done a terrific job.
25. Cincinnati Bearcats
Last week: NR
According to the eye test and metrics, Cincinnati probably should have never left the power rankings. But the Bearcats were picked apart by Xavier and then lost to Florida -- and they still haven't beaten a surefire NCAA tournament team. Next weekend's home game against SMU is a nice bellwether matchup for both teams.
Dropped out: Baylor