clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 100 best B1G basketball teams since the B1G stopped winning national championships

New, comments

Episode 3 of a VERY SPECIAL SERIES

Shaw joined a cult. How do we deprogram him and let him know these teams aren’t top-50 caliber?

[Link to honorable mentions]

Is the Casey Kasem voice in your head (google him)?

Let’s get on with the countdown...

100. 2014 Nebraska Cornhuskers: 19-13/11-7; KP: 12.64, #56; SRS: 10.13, #60; 11-seed, lost to Baylor in round of 64

Let’s be honest, Husker fan: we both know that Nebraska has never won an NCAA tournament game, and, since joining the B1G, has not really produced a team that deserves to be in the top 100, but for my “every team is on the list at least once” rule. Thus, your sole NCAA team as a B1G member makes the countdown. [The first of six “accommodations.”] That said, this isn’t total charity. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields were a really fun guard tandem, and Tim Miles was ever quotable. And turning an 0-4 start in league play into an 11-7 final record is damn impressive. The road win over Sparty was probably the most impressive win, but the most memorable was likely the home win in the season finale vs. Wisconsin.

99. 2021 Maryland Terrapins: 17-14/9-11; KP: 17.63, #35; SRS: 13.94, #33; 10-seed, lost to Alabama in round of 32

Because of Covid, and limited non-conference schedules, the overall record of some 2021 teams in this list will look pretty bad comparatively speaking, but this was a pretty good Terp team. [I started compiling before Turg stepped down; didn’t know this was his swan song.] The 9-11 conference record makes them one of a very small number of teams to crack the top 100 despite being sub. 500 in conference play, and they make the list on the strength of impressive road wins over Wisconsin, Rutgers, and, especially, Illinois. They beat Michigan State in a probable “must-win” at the B1G tournament, and then dominated UConn in the first round before capitulating to Alabama. Given recent developments, it may feel like more than a year ago, but Aaron Wiggins and Eric Ayala led a very solid squad.

98. 2017 Northwestern Wildcats: 24-12/10-8; KP: 15.81, #38; SRS: 14.02, #39; 8-seed, lost to Gonzaga in round of 32

Our second of six “accommodations,” Northwestern wasn’t as good as some other teams who finished in the 4th-6th range in the B1G and won a tournament game. But this is obviously the best Wildcat squad of this period and can stand on their own. The 3-6 closing kick in the regular season almost ruined what seemed like a storybook season (yes, at one point Northwester was 7-2 in league play), but Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law, and Co. dug deep, winning two games in the conference tournament (we won’t discuss the semifinal), to punch the NCAA ticket. And once there, Northwestern punctuated the season with a thrilling victory over Vanderbilt, and a gutty performance against national runner-up Gonzaga in the second round.

97. 2011 Michigan Wolverines: 21-14/9-9; KP: 17.69, #30; SRS: 14.21, #30; 8-seed, lost to Duke in round of 32

Michigan did make the tournament—and win a game—in ‘09, John Beilein’s second season, but this Wolverine squad is really the one that kicked off their fabulous run during the 2010’s. Darius Morris is overlooked now, but he and frosh Tim Hardaway Jr. led Michigan through a brutal schedule (#7 KP), overcoming a six-game losing streak in January to finish the regular season on a 8-3 kick, rounding off the conference record despite once sitting at 1-6. Once there, they did the world a favor by ending Bruce Pearl’s scandal-ridden time at Tennessee with a 75-45 demolition, and almost did the world another favor, falling by two to Duke when a last second shot to force OT wouldn’t fall.

96. 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes: 24-11/11-7; KP: 20.75, #19; SRS: 19.68, #10; 10-seed, lost to Arizona in round of 32

I don’t pretend to be smarter then Ken Pomeroy or to have a better system that SRS, but there is absolutely nothing to suggest that Ohio State actually was the 10th (or 19th) best team in the nation in 2015. Marquette (#93) was the only nonconference win over a KP top-100 opponent. They went 3-6 against fellow B1G NCAA tournament teams (all wins at home), and the only quality win away from Columbus was the first round victory over VCU. D’Angelo Russell went #2 in the draft. 11-7 in conference play, and a tournament win will get you this, but nothing more.

95. 2003 Purdue Boilermakers: 19-11/10-6; KP: 17.42, #27; SRS: 15.95, #22; 9-seed, lost to Texas in round of 32

The youngsters don’t remember this team, or Willie Deane, but they deserve some attention. Sitting at 15-4/7-1, the Boilers went on a 3-5 slide down the stretch and lost their first B1G tournament game, which meant a 9-seed rather than the 6- or 7-seed that was probably the better reflection of their quality. As usual, they were great at Mackey, taking down conference champ Wisconsin, second-place Illinois, and Michigan State, who they tied for 3rd. Add in a road win in Ann Arbor (Michigan was also part of that 3rd place tie) and a neutral court win over Louisville (who earned a 4-seed), and the profile is plenty robust. Once in the tournament they demolished 8-seed LSU 80-56, and gave 1-seed Texas a real fight—having the ball, down 66-63 late—before fading late, 77-67. This was Gene Keady’s last tournament team at Purdue, and while not among his very best, was still a fine crew. [Though good luck finding any highlights on youtube. Sorry.]

94. 2010 Minnesota Golden Gophers: 21-14/9-9; KP: 17.97, #34; SRS: 15.64, #21; 11-seed, lost to Xavier in round of 64

What gets a team that went .500 in conference play and lost in the first round a spot in the top 100? How about a neutral court win over national runner-up Butler, a victory over conference tri-champ Ohio State, and a run to the B1G championship game, dispatching B1G tri-champs Michigan State and Purdue (yes, w/o Hummel) on a neutral court in the process? That’s a robust set of victories. Lawrence Westbrook led a balanced, if methodical, Gopher attack. [Though Gopher fans seems reluctant to celebrate this team, given the paucity of videos.]

93. 2007 Purdue Boilermakers: 22-12/9-7; KP: 18.31, #30; SRS: 14.65, #27; 9-seed, lost to Florida in round of 32

Before the Baby Boilers, Carl Landry led Matt Painter’s first tournament team with Purdue. There aren’t any truly elite wins on the profile, but there are a bunch of wins over top-50 caliber competition and a very satisfying 81-68 win over Indiana. Once in the tournament, Purdue knocked off Arizona in the first round, ending Lute Olson’s coaching career. Then, in the second round, they played eventual national champion Florida as close as anybody during the Gators’ tourney run, falling 74-67 in a game where Purdue maintained contact throughout. In fact, the upset may have been there for the taking except Florida was 6-8 from the field and 14-14 on FTs down the stretch. [Again, youtube videos are hard to come by.]

92. 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes: 22-12/12-6; KP: 19.02, #23; SRS: 15.83, #20; 7-seed, lost to Gonzaga in round of 32

As with ‘15 Ohio State, the advanced stats love this Iowa squad, and there was no February Fran Fade this season, either, as Iowa won their final six conference games. So why not higher? Well, there’s just not much meat on the bone in terms of quality wins. They beat Sweet 16 participant UNC in Chapel Hill as part of the B1G/ACC Challenge and...beat Ohio State twice. They lost at home to Minnesota and @ Northwestern, teams that tied for 10th in B1G and, in the conference tournament, they lost to #13 seed Penn State. They did right the ship by absolutely eviscerating Davidson, 83-52, which is sufficient to grab a spot on the list. This Hawkeye squad actually had the second-worst offensive efficiency rating in the last nine years for Iowa, but they made up for it by playing the second-best defense in the same time frame. If you don’t remember Aaron White, he was a good defender and and an athletic, efficient scorer.

91. 2008 Indiana Hoosiers: 25-8/14-4; KP: 18.43, #29; SRS: 15.78, #21, 8-seed, lost to Arkansas in round of 64

Oh, what might have been. A season that started with the highest preseason ranking in 15 years ended with Kelvin Sampson on a five-year show cause penalty and interim coach Dan Dakich unable to slow the nosedive. These were the Eric Gordon/D.J. White Hoosiers. The record is gaudy, and they were tied for first when the calendar flipped to March. In different circumstances, this could have been a top-50 team. That said, the B1G was relatively weak in 2008 (#5 in KP), the Hoosiers were swept by conference champ Wisconsin, and they didn’t beat an NCAA tournament team away from Bloomington. They did beat the Baby Boilers in Bloomington in the only matchup between them, which counts for something. But the 1-4 finish, punctuated by a no-show against Arkansas in the NCAA tournament really takes the shine off of the rest of the season.

90. 2009 Illinois Fighting Illini: 24-10/11-7; KP: 18.72, #25; SRS: 14.38, #26, 5-seed, lost to Western Kentucky in round of 64

Seemingly forgotten by many, this version of the Illini rode balanced scoring (four players averaged double figures) and strong defense (#4 in KP AdjD) to a second-place tie in the B1G standings, and won that tiebreaker by virtue of sweeping Purdue in the regular season. They also knocked off Missouri—who made the Elite Eight—on a neutral court in the Braggin’ Rights game, and added six more wins against B1G opponents who went dancing, including a road win in Columbus and a neutral site win over Michigan. What keeps Illinois from being higher is a limited non-conference profile outside the Mizzou win, and, especially, the first round loss at the hands of 12-seed Western Kentucky.

89. 2019 Penn State Nittany Lions: 26-13/9-9; KP: 19.18, #19; SRS: 15.85, #25, no NCAA bid; 4-seed in NIT; won NIT

This one might be controversial and is the only team in the list—2020 aside—not to make the NCAA tournament. A weak non-conference schedule—and especially the one-point home loss to Rider (KP #145) in a game PSU led by 4 with under 20 seconds to play—torpedoed an otherwise good at-large resume. In particular, Penn State beat Ohio State (who was 15-3 in B1G play and tied for 2nd) three times. If you treat B1G tournament games simply as additional conference games, then PSU went 11-10 in B1G play. Being above .500 in conference games in the B1G is usually worth an NCAA bid, but not for Tony Carr, Lamar Stevens, Mike Watkins, and Co. Channeling their frustration, Penn State won the NIT, with four of the wins coming away from State College, all of them against power conference foes.

88. 2014 Iowa Hawkeyes: 22-11/12-6; KP: 20.24, #23; SRS: 17.01, #21; 7-seed, lost to Villanova in round of 32

It’s almost a matter of taste which mid-2010’s (‘14, ‘15, ‘16) Iowa team you think it best, but I’m putting this one in the middle. These Hawkeyes were led by Roy Devyn Marble and Aaron White, and were #5 in offensive efficiency per KP. They recorded a quality non-conference win over Xavier on a neutral court, won at then #3 Ohio State and beat conference champion Michigan by 18 in Iowa City. Sitting at 19-6/8-4, seven of the B1G wins had been by double-digits and all four losses were to teams that would get seeded 6 or better in the NCAA. Then the bottom fell out, and Iowa lost five of the last six in the regular season to finish 9-9. A bad loss to Northwestern in the first round of the B1G tournament sent Iowa to the play-in game where the lost a Tennessee team should’ve been seeded higher and went on to the Sweet 16.

87. 2019 Maryland Terrapins: 23-11/13-7; KP: 19.29, #24: SRS; 16.01, #21; #6 seed, lost to LSU in round of 32

Four of Maryland’s starters from this team (Bruno Fernando forever!) returned in 2020 and won a share of the regular season title, so it’s easy to overlook the ‘19 Terps, but they can stand on their own. There were no terrible losses on the resume, and they boasted a sweep over OSU and a convincing home win over Purdue, who went to the Elite Eight (and they almost beat them in West Lafayette). Maryland’s tournament performance really serves as a microcosm of the season: some accomplishment, but leaving your wanting more. Against Belmont, Maryland dug themselves an early hole, but was able to close strong and win by a bucket despite an off day from Anthony Cowan. Against LSU, Maryland dug themselves an early hole, but came back only to lose by bucket thanks to a no-call on a pretty egregious travel. In a sense, the ‘19 Terps are the epitome of the bottom quintile of these rankings. Without the win over Belmont, they may not be ranked at all (they probably would’ve been, but you get the point); with a win over LSU, they’re probably in the top 60.

86. 2020 Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 20-11/11-9; KP: 17.72, #28; SRS: 15.72, #28; projected 9-seed*

85. 2020 Michigan Wolverines: 19-12/10-10; KP: 20.12, #16; SRS: 17.94, #12; projected 6-seed*

84. 2020 Penn State Nittany Lions: 21-10/11-9; KP: 17.91 #26; SRS: 16.12, #24; projected 6-seed*

83. 2020 Iowa Hawkeyes: 20-11/11-9; KP: 18.65, #23; SRS: 16.07, #25; projected 6-seed*

82. 2020 Illinois Fighting Illini: 21-10/13-7; KP: 17.23, #30; SRS: 15.27, #31; projected 7-seed*

81. 2020 Ohio State Buckeyes: 21-10/11-9; KP: 22.23, #8; SRS: 19.37, #7; projected 5-seed*

*All seed projections are from bracketmatrix

Of course this is a cop-out. But you can’t honestly acknowledge the emphasis that gets placed on NCAA tournament performance, and then just pretend you can accurately rank teams that didn’t have that opportunity. Had the 2020 season been played to its natural conclusion, then it’s highly likely that not all of these teams are in the rankings. Certainly the order would be different. But it wasn’t. And I honestly think each of these teams was good enough to make the Sweet 16 with the a break or two.

Rutgers ended their regular season winning at Mackey. Winning the first round is no guarantee, but if they were in 1-seed Dayton’s regional, I give them a solid (35-40%) chance of winning that game. If the first round game was a tossup, that’s still a 17.5-20% chance of making the Sweet 16. Good enough to recognize.

[NOTE: For the next four teams, know that bracketmatrix’s projected 3 seeds were Duke, Michigan State, Seton Hall, and Maryland, and that the projected 2 seeds were San Diego State, Florida State, Villanova, and Creighton.]

Michigan destroyed 1-seed Gonzaga on a neutral court in December. The closed on a 6-3 run, and didn’t lose a game all year to a team ranked lower than 30 by KP. A 6/11 loss is possible, but so is a Sweet 16, or even an Elite 8 run. Jon Teske wasn’t Hunter Dickinson, but the ‘20 squad had Zavier Simpson.

At one point, Penn State, was 20-5/10-4. They had a road win over MSU and a home win over Maryland. The 1-5 finish, including a very ugly loss in Evanston, is cause for alarm, but they wouldn’t have been the first team to right the ship in the postseason. For most of the year, this was the either the best or second best PSU team of their B1G years (shout out to ‘96). If their bracket was Seton Hall and then Florida State, well, that would’ve been interesting.

It’s easy to joke about Iowa’s postseason struggles. If they haven’t gotten out of the first weekend since 1999, why would this team be any different? Well, the 2019 team erased a 19-point second-half deficit against 2-seed Tennessee in the 2nd round only to fall in OT. Tyler Cook was great, but the 2020 team had a clearer pecking order. Could they have beaten Seton Hall or Maryland in a second round matchup? Absolutely.

Illinois was only projected a 7-seed, but that was because the team took awhile to gel and didn’t help their profile in the non-conference. But after a 1-2 start, Illinois went 12-5 in conference play from Jan. 5 onward, and that includes a four-game losing streak. Had the B1G tournament happened, a 4/5 game vs. Iowa, and possible semi vs. Wisconsin, would’ve given Illinois a chance to improve their seed position. The Illini were rounding into form and would’ve been a tough out.

For much of January, Ohio State looked like the disappointment of the B1G. They had climbed to #1 in KP for a few days, but were sitting at 2-6 in conference play on Jan. 23. But a 9-3 finish suggest the Buckeyes were playing much closer to their potential. A 4/5 seed in the NCAA tournament made a Sweet 16 appearance, at least, a distinct possibility.