Today we carry on with fifteen more teams. But we get the first appearance from teams that 1) won a regular season championship, or 2) won the B1G tournament, or 3) made the Sweet 16.
Once we get to the top 50, hitting one of those marks will almost be a pre-requisite. In fact, I’ll bet you’re waiting with baited breath to see who the highest ranked team is that didn’t claim any sort of B1G title and lost in the first weekend. Put your guesses in the comments below, but you won’t find out until the week we unveil teams 21-30.
For now, enjoy a wide range of teams—some surprising, some disappointing—covering the full period from 2001-2021.
80. 2021 Wisconsin Badgers: 18-13/10-10; KP: 22.40, #14; SRS: 17.22, #13; 9-seed, lost to Baylor in round of 32
Last installment, I had seven different 2020 squads ranked 87-81, and the teams at 78 and 80 basically continue that thought. Wisconsin had almost everybody back and expectations were sky high. The advanced stats love this team, but the regular season was largely a disappointment. Ending Roy Williams’ career in a first round blowout, and giving the national champ a solid game only mitigate that slightly. Overall, this was a solid team. Some 2020 squads probably would’ve exceeded it, had the season finished. Some wouldn’t of. But it’s impossible to know which ones, so the ‘21 Badgers stand as the gatekeeper of sorts. Get ranked higher than 80 and your season was, at least, pretty good much of the time.
79. 2016 Iowa Hawkeyes: 22-11/12-6; KP: 20.24, #23; SRS: 17.01, #21; 7-seed, lost to Villanova in round of 32.
Iowa swept MSU by a combined 30 points and reached as high as #2 in the KP rankings in late-January/early-February. But after sitting at 19-4/10-1, the Hawkeyes sputtered down the stretch, going 2-5, then dropping a 5/12 B1G tournament game to Illinois. Peter Jok and Jarrod Uthoff combined to shot almost 40% from 3 while taking over 10 attempts per game and the defense was pretty good. But the late slide dropped Iowa to the 7-seed and they had no chance in a second round matchup against eventual national champion Villanova, trailing by as much as 34 early in the second half.
78. 2021 Purdue Boilermakers: 18-10/13-6; KP: 20.33, #35; SRS: 15.55, #22; 4-seed, lost to North Texas in round of 64
See Wisconsin at 80. Expectations weren’t nearly high for Purdue as for Wisconsin. And Purdue had a clearly better regular season even if the advanced numbers didn’t love them. A 4/13 upset loss in the NCAA tournament ended things on a sour note as a Sweet 16 appearance would’ve seen them through to the top 50. Was this a memorable season? Not on the whole. But it was better than most.
77. 2013 Minnesota Gophers: 21-13/8-10; KP: 19.85, #20; SRS: 16.84, #16; 11-seed, lost to Florida in round of 32.
I am pretty sure this is the highest ranked team to have a losing B1G record other than those who were accommodated for making the Sweet 16 or winning the B1G tournament (keep reading). What makes this Gopher squad so noteworthy? First, 2013 was perhaps the best the B1G has been over this 20 year period. 8-10 is nothing to laugh at in 2013, as evidenced by the wins over Michigan State (Sweet 16) and Indiana (B1G Champ, Sweet 16). Additionally, Minnesota notched a neutral court win over Memphis, who would go on to win 31 games. Finally, even after receiving an 11-seed, the Gophers showed out, demolishing UCLA by 20 in the first round, before running out of steam vs. 2-seed Florida late it the second half after cutting a 20-point deficit to 7.
76. 2008 Purdue Boilermakers: 25-9/15-3; KP: 18.30, #30; SRS 13.10, #31; 6-seed, lost to Xavier in round of 32
Yes, an Indiana team ranked a few spots behind them won the only H2H matchup and looks better according to the advanced numbers. Doesn’t matter. Purdue didn’t crash-and-burn in March, and they gave B1G champ Wisconsin their only two conference losses. Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore played like freshmen at times (home loss to Wofford (KP #203); neutral loss to Iowa State (KP #124)), but they also beat Elite Eight participant Louisville on a neutral court and posted a gaudy B1G record. The conference was a bit weak in 2008, but they went on to beat Baylor in the NCAA tournament before giving 3-seed Xavier (who also reached the Elite Eight) a tough game in the second round.
75. 2002 Wisconsin Badgers: 19-13/11-5: KP: 13.22, #50; SRS: 10.10, #55; 8-seed, lost to Maryland in round of 32
This is the third of six teams who are in the rankings solely because they hit a certain benchmark. In this case, Bo Ryan’s first UW squad was part of a four-way tie for the regular-season title, which automatically puts them in the rankings. If not for that, they’re probably not ranked. That said, the Badgers were probably better than the advanced numbers suggest. Or, at least they were once they got past a 3-6 start while getting used to Ryan’s swing offense. They had some close game luck to go 11-5 in conference play, but the 6-0 finish included wins vs. quad-champ OSU and @ quad-champ (and national runner-up) Indiana. And in January, their win at Breslin snapped MSU’s 53-game home court winning streak. Toss in an NCAA tournament win (over St. John’s) and this ranking is not pure charity.
74. 2007 Michigan State Spartans: 23-12/8-8; KP: 20.97, #17; SRS: 16.30, #17; 9-seed, lost to North Carolina in round of 32
By MSU’s high standards, this was a disappointing season, the only time since ‘96-’97 that Sparty went the entire season without being ranked. A 1-7 road record in B1G games also doesn’t inspire confidence. That said, Drew Neitzel, Goran Suton, and Raymar Morgan led the Spartans to a late February upset of #1 Wisconsin and they nearly beat the Badgers in Madison in the season finale. They also took national runner-up Ohio State to the wire in Columbus before succumbing by a bucket. In the NCAA tournament, the Spartans got by Marquette before losing to 1-seed UNC. Again, not one of Izzo’s better seasons, but still a fine one by more normal measures.
Green Akers: This was my first year of college, and I’ll say it was quite a fun team to fall in love with notwithstanding the relatively modest accomplishments. Yes, we rushed the floor after that Wisconsin win, justified I think in that MSU was unranked and the Badgers were #1. It was great fun and I regret nothing. For context, MSU had lost something like 90% of its scoring and rebounding from the previous year with the departures of Mo Ager, Shannon Brown, and Paul Davis, so an entertaining, generally-competitive young team was about as much as could be expected. Some of those pieces, especially Morgan and Suton, were critical to the 2009 team that made it to the national championship game, and with the football team being a miserable 3-9 in John L. Smith’s last season, Neitzel was definitely the Big Man On Campus that year. Did you know his dad made him brush his teeth with his left hand, to improve his ambidexterity???
73. 2001 Penn State Nittany Lions: 21-12/7-9; NO KP RANKINGS; SRS: 12.43, #43; 7-seed, lost to Temple in Sweet 16
The fourth of six “accommodations”/auto-bids, Penn State’s Sweet 16 appearance guaranteed their spot. The 2000-2001 season was a very strong one for the conference as seven teams made the tournament. Penn State tied for 6th in conference play, but note that they still got a 7-seed in the NCAA. They did this by posting regular season wins @ Kentucky (2-seed), @ Ohio State (5-seed), vs. Illinois (1-seed), and @ Iowa (7-seed). Then, in the B1G tournament, they beat #2 ranked Michigan State in the semi before falling to Iowa in the title game. After knocking off Providence, Joe Crispin and Titus Ivory combined for 42 points as Penn State upset 2-seed North Carolina to advance to the Sweet 16.
72. 2001 Iowa Hawkeyes: 23-12/7-9; NO KP RANKINGS; SRS: 14.25, #32; 7-seed, lost to Kentucky in round of 32
Iowa is the fifth of six “accommodations”/auto-bids, earning their way in by virtue of winning the B1G tournament. While they tied Penn State for 6th, the Hawkeyes’ path was a bit rockier. Iowa was sitting at 17-4/6-2 in conference play before the bottom fell out and they finished the regular season 1-7. On the bubble, at best, Iowa then won four games in four days at the B1G tournament, culminating in a 63-61 title game win over Indiana in what may still be the most exciting championship game in the history of the event. Once in the tournament, Iowa defeated Creighton before falling to 2-seed Kentucky.
71. 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes: 25-10/10-8; KP: 21.30, #19; SRS: 17.84, #17; 6-seed, lost to Dayton in round of 64
The Aaron Craft era ended with a bit of a thud, losing in the first round to 11-seed Dayton. However, Dayton ended up making the Elite Eight, and OSU had a pretty good year, all told. A 15-0 start had them at #1 in the KP rankings and #3 in the AP. A four-game losing streak followed, but OSU righted the ship, finishing on an 8-4 kick before making the semifinals of the B1G tournament. The season-ending win vs. MSU (Elite Eight) and an early Feb. win @ UW (Final Four) indicate a team good enough to make a deep tournament run had they slipped past Dayton.
MaximumSam: Man, I don’t remember anything about this season other than losing to Dayton and Archie Miller suddenly becoming everyone’s darling. In retrospect, this was the beginning of the end for Thad Matta - the next season brought a fun D’Angelo Russell season and then a a lot of rough times. Believe it or not, a lot of people were mad that Gene Smith waited to move on from Matta and ruined their chance to hire Miller.
70. 2011 Illinois Fighting Illini: 20-14/9-9: KP: 20.14, #18; SRS: 16.72, #17; 9-seed, lost to Kansas in round of 32
Nothing leaps off the page to distinguish this Illini squad, and the 9-seed killed any chances to make a lot of noise the in the NCAA tournament, but there were plenty of solid wins. Neutral site wins over Maryland and Gonzaga, a home win over North Carolina (Elite Eight), and, in conference play, wins over Wisconsin (Sweet 16), Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State, all of whom made the tournament. Once in the tournament, Illinois knocked off Lon Kruger’s last UNLV team before falling to 1-seed Kansas in a game where the Illini had possession, trailing by only 5 with just over 5 minutes to play.
69. 2001 Indiana Hoosiers: 21-13/10-6; NO KP RANKINGS; SRS: 17.58, #14; 4-seed, lost to Kent State in round of 64
Twenty-one years ago is a long time, and the season-ending losses to Iowa (B1G championship game) and Kent State (4-13 upset in NCAA tournament) took the sheen off of this season, but Indiana’s first post-Knight team was pretty good. Kirk Haston and Jared Jeffries combined to given Indiana an excellent 1-2 punch inside, and the Hoosiers notched some impressive wins: @ #10 Notre Dame, vs. #1 Michigan State, and vs. #4 Illinois in the B1G tournament.
68. 2007 Indiana Hoosiers: 21-11/10-6; KP: 21.58, #14; SRS: 16.78, #16; 7-seed, lost to UCLA in round of 32
Kelvin Sampson’s first (of two) Hoosier squad was led by D.J. White and worked its way through a challenging schedule. Indiana posted wins vs. Southern Illinois (Sweet 16), NCAA participants Purdue, Michigan State, and Illinois, and a win over top-5 Wisconsin. Once in the tournament, the Hoosiers knocked off Gonzaga before giving 2-seed UCLA (who would make the Final Four) all they could handle in a less-than-scintillating 54-49 second round matchup.
67. 2016 Wisconsin Badgers: 22-13/12-6; KP: 16.55, #38; SRS: 13.40, #42; 7-seed, lost to Notre Dame in Sweet 16
The last of six “accommodations”/automatic bids, the 2016 Badgers had to deal with Bo Ryan’s in-season retirement and the loss of two first round draft picks off the ‘15 national runners-up. For a good chunk of the season, things were disappointing, and UW was sitting at 9-9/1-4 midway through January. However, a one-point home win over #4 Michigan State kicked off an 11-1 run that also featured wins @ #2 Maryland, @ #8 Iowa, and a home win over B1G champ Indiana. After a disappointing B1G tournament loss to Nebraska, the 7-seeded Badgers earned a very ugly 47-43 win over Pitt, and then upset 2-seed Xavier on Bronson Koenig’s buzzer beater to make the Sweet 16.
66. 2018 Ohio State Buckeyes: 25-9/15-3; KP: 21.16, #16; SRS: 17.67, #15; 5-seed, lost to Gonzaga in round of 32
Chris Holtmann’s first Buckeye squad rode Keita Bates-Diop to a 15-3 B1G record, 15-1 against everybody but Penn State. That includes a win @ #3 Purdue (23-2/12-0 entering the game), a 16-point drubbing of B1G champ Michigan State, and a home win over national runner-up Michigan. Had they managed to win a 5/4 second round game vs. Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes would’ve been a lock for the top 50. As it is, this was still a very successful debut for Holtmann.
MaximumSam: This was a ridiculously fun season. Coming in, expectations were rock bottom. Matta’s last season was rough, and like half that team left. They didn’t really have a point guard, so they moved power forward Jae’Sean Tate to handle the ball. How the hell was this team going to win? Watching them go from a bunch of mismatched pieces to coherent team was a satisfying journey. That seems to have become a calling card of the Holtmann era. Also, how about Tate taking the very circuitous route to the NBA.