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Two Decades of Not Quite, Part III

With these four teams, the regular season hasn’t usually been the problem.

The lone B1G national title from this batch of teams.
Anchor of Purdue’s last Final Four. A Warrior most of his NBA career, but no way I’m not showing off that classic uniform.

t-6. Purdue Boilermakers: 17 wins since 2000

How? How are you so consistently good and so much more accomplished than Iowa, but share the same 40+ year Final Four drought? I actually think there’s a reasonable explanation, but you’re not gonna like it.

Purdue is the Big Ten’s happy plateau. They’re very good, regularly. They’re just not great. (And have had some bad luck.) Consider:

  1. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Purdue has won the B1G regular season title outright five times: 1988, 1994, 1995, 1996, and 2017. In none of those years did ANY B1G team advance to the Final Four.
  2. In the other 31 years (not counting 2020), at least one B1G school made the Final Four in 19 seasons (i.e., over 60% of the time).
  3. Each of the three times Purdue shared the B1G title (1987, 2010, and 2017), a team Purdue shared the title with DID make the Final Four

Bottom line: when Purdue is the best team in the B1G, the B1G isn’t very good. When they share the crown, they probably overachieved, and the other, more talented team goes on a March run (Robbie Hummel injury notwithstanding). When Purdue isn’t the best team in the B1G, it’s probably because there is a really good team in the B1G.

Get Off My Lawn: Okay, let’s be serious for a minute. “Joe Barely Cares” is one of the best nicknames ever. So good that it has probably done real damage, unfortunately. First, Joe Barry Carroll was a damn good pro. Just because he was introspective doesn’t mean he didn’t like basketball. People threw that shit at Kareem too. If you’re a tall black man who shows any penchant for contemplation, your competitive fire gets questioned. Let’s just stipulate that.

And yeah, he basically got traded for Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, but that was because the Warriors were broke and weren’t going to be able to keep Parish anyway, so the Warriors made the move. Did McHale have the better pro career? Of course. But stop treating Carroll as if he had Same Bowie’s career, or was Michael Olowokandi or Anthony Bennett.

Finally, and most importantly, Joe Barry Carroll is a fundamentally decent man. Read the “After Retirement” section of his Wikipedia entry for starters. Know that he has published two quasi-memoirs showcasing his painting (I’m not an expert, but I see the influence of Horace Pippin). Or check out his own site:

This is an impressive man who has lived a pretty full life.


3rd best Purdue "What if?" [Robbie Hummel and 2019 are off the table.]

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    What if Kansas State isn’t unconscious in 1988 Sweet 16?
    (6 votes)
  • 36%
    What if whatever happened between the Sweet 16 win over Kansas and Elite 8 loss to Duke in 1994 hadn’t happened (ask a middle-aged Purdue fan)?
    (31 votes)
  • 20%
    What if Purdue shot better than 31% against Stanford in the 1998 Elite Eight?
    (18 votes)
  • 36%
    What if Purdue were capable of winning 2 of 4 games vs. Wisconsin in 2000?
    (31 votes)
86 votes total Vote Now
How he never made an NBA All-Star Game is beyond me.

t-6. Illinois Fighting Illini: 17 wins since 2000

13 of Illinois’s 17 victories came before Matt Painter coached his first game at Purdue, so, um, this year would’ve been a good time to open a lead on the Boilermakers instead of just catch them. But that would have required being as good as Oregon State, so, you know...

My first instinct was to count down wins from ‘85-present, but that’s too much old man framing, so I went with post-Sparty title. But, you all should know that on the 1985-2021 score there is a four-way tie for fourth place with 34 wins among three of the schools in this installment and Indiana, with Illinois dropping to 8th with 29. In other words, adding in the era that includes the Flying Illini and Lon Kruger’s competency leaves the Illini worse off. Tell me again that Lou Henson maximized the talent on his roster?

Get Off My Lawn: You probably all have some awareness of the bad blood between Iowa and Illinois owing to the Bruce Pearl/Jimmy Collins/Deon Thomas situation in the late 80s. But Illinois/Purdue was always a sneaky, low-key rivalry given the proximity of the campuses (even before the cross-pollination of the Keady coaching tree). And in the 80s they both had consistently good teams that often were overshadowed by Indiana. Your author took a shot at Henson, but let’s zero in on their absolutely biggest choke job.

The 1987 Illini finished fourth in the Big Ten, but went 13-5. The 5 losses were 2x Purdue (15-3, Big Ten co-champs) by 1 point each time; 2x Iowa (14-4, Elite Eight) by 3 in OT and 5 on the road; and 1x to Indiana (15-3, Big Ten co-champs, national champion) by 3. They lost 2 non-conference games: @ #4 UNC (who earned a 1-seed and made the Elite Eight) and by 1 point @...oh shit...this is

Anyway, the Illini grabbed a 3-seed and a first-round matchup with Austin Peay. Dick Vitale, just becoming a “thing” on an up-and-coming cable sports network, declared that he would stand on his head if Illinois lost.

Thanks, Illinois. No, really, thanks.


Metaphorically, when heavy expectations go unfulfilled, it could be said that the sound of those expectations crashing into the floor is a loud "thump." Which of Illinois’s "thumps" was the loudest?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    1989: We beat Michigan twice, no reason we can’t beat them again.
    (12 votes)
  • 20%
    2005: Attempting 18 more field goals than UNC can offset going 12-40 from 3, right?
    (17 votes)
  • 65%
    2021: I’ll be damned, they ran that play where Krutwig starts the offense from the top of the post AGAIN. I wish there was some way to counter that. Alas...
    (54 votes)
83 votes total Vote Now
Averaged 29.0 for the ‘87 Buckeyes, coached by Gary Williams

t-4. Ohio State Buckeyes: 21 wins since 2000

Holy shit. I just got done talking about Purdue’s steady regular season play and Illinois’s capacity to waste oodles of talent and now you hand me the team that combines those two?

Thanks for the Oral Roberts jokes, I guess, but what is no laughing matter is that OSU has been a 1 or 2 seed nine times (for reference’s sake that is the same number as MSU; shall we compare March performances?):

‘91: 1 seed; lost to 4 seed

‘92: 1 seed; lost to 6 seed (Michigan, Fab Five, who you had beaten by double-digits twice)

‘06: 2 seed; lost to 7 seed

‘07: 1 seed; lost to 1 seed in national title game (my acquaintance will handle this one)

‘10: 2 seed; lost to 6 seed

‘11: 1 seed (#1 overall seed); lost to 4 seed

‘12: 2 seed; lost to 2 seed (Kansas in Final Four. Beat 1 seed Syracuse, but Boeheim has similar troubles so something had to give)

‘13: 2 seed; lost to 9 seed

‘21: 2 seed; lost to 15 seed.

That’s some pretty consistent underachievement!

Get Off My Lawn: Yeah, let’s dive a little deeper on that 2007 squad. 35-4/15-1, #1 ranking in the last regular season poll. That team must have been a killer. Well, everybody talks as if they were, but the dirty secret is the B1G wasn’t very good (OSU was the only team to make the Sweet 16) and the Buckeyes went 2-3 against ranked teams in the regular season. They were handily defeated by UNC (w/o Oden) and Florida, and defeated Tennessee by 2 at home. They lost @UW and then beat the Badgers to clinch the B1G regular-season title in a 49-48 rock fight in a game where Brian Butch was lost for the year to a gruesome elbow injury early in the first half.

And, yes, they DID make it to the title game. OSU was a very good team. But Florida was obviously better (they beat Florida 1 out of 10 times...2, max), and, thanks to a Georgetown upset of UNC, were able to avoid a rematch with the Tar Heels. They needed to rally from 20 down to beat Tennessee in the Sweet 16, and then there was the Xavier game in the second round.

If you remember that game, you probably remember Xavier missing a FT while leading 62-59 with 10 seconds to go and then Ron Lewis burying a deep 3 to force OT. What you may have forgotten was that the foul that put Xavier on the line was Oden’s 5th, and that it was only called a common foul despite, well, check it out (starting at 2:47 or so):


Which coach who wrecked a top 2-seeded OSU’s season LEAST deserves to feel joy?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    1992: Steve Fisher
    (6 votes)
  • 32%
    2010: Bruce Pearl
    (25 votes)
  • 47%
    2011: John Calipari
    (37 votes)
  • 12%
    2013: Gregg Marshall
    (10 votes)
78 votes total Vote Now
The Wizard averaged 26.8 for the ‘92 Terps, also coached by Gary Williams

t-4. Maryland Terrapins: 21 wins since 2000

You’re basically Illinois in that the bulk of your work (12 of 21 wins) happened in a small stretch early in the timespan (2001-2003), except you got lucky and didn’t have to face a 1-seed in the title game. Instead, you got to beat Indiana and kick off the B1G’s seven-game losing streak in the national title game. Assholes. And now you’re in the B1G and have seen the second weekend once in the last 18 years. Your best team in recent years overlapped with Covid (as did Rutgers’s and Penn State’s...nice going East Coast schools).

And yes, you DID gain a share of the B1G title in 2020, but, based on the overall evidence so far, you really swapped out one set of overlords (Duke), for another (MSU). Not that you didn’t have any warning about that:

Get Off My Lawn: Yes, the Terps didn’t face the biggest test in the 2002 title game. That said, up to that point, they had faced the highest possible seed they could face in every game (16/8/4/2/1), and no national champion has had to do that through an entire tournament run (keep this in mind for 24 hours or so). And the Sweet 16/Elite 8/Final 4 stretch was fierce. In the Sweet 16, Kentucky had five future NBA players, including Tayshaun Prince. In the Elite 8, UConn had Caron Butler, Ben Gordon, and Emeka Okafor (the latter two were frosh, but both played 25-30 min/game). And in the Final 4, Kansas rolled out Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, and Kirk Hinrich. Maryland was senior-laden and tough as hell. Beat out defending national champions Duke (with everybody but Battier back) to win the ACC. Great college basketball team.

Maybe Gary Williams will consider coming out of retirement after Turgeon leaves for the Oklahoma job...


Who gets to feel the most miserable?

This poll is closed

  • 41%
    How has Purdue not made the Final Four since 1980?
    (49 votes)
  • 15%
    How has Illinois not won a national title?
    (18 votes)
  • 26%
    How does Ohio State squander great seeds so regularly?
    (31 votes)
  • 16%
    How has Maryland only made one Sweet 16 the from 2004-present?
    (20 votes)
118 votes total Vote Now