In the comments last week, I essentially got asked how much 2016 Wisconsin’s ranking would have changed had they made the Elite 8 instead of the Sweet 16. I said I didn’t think it would’ve changed much and that, to me, winning the second game of a weekend in the tournament matters a lot more than the first one. That is a fairly obvious point, but I’ll try to elaborate a bit more on specific comparisons below.
65. 2019 Wisconsin Badgers: 23-11/14-6; KP: 21.94, #16; SRS: 17.89, #17; 5-seed, lost to Oregon in round of 64
In 2018, UW saw an 18 year streak of making the NCAA tournament end. The next year, the Badgers bounced back behind senior Ethan Happ and co. Other than a non-conference loss @WKU (scheduled for football reasons), all of the losses were quality, and there were quality wins over Oklahoma (neutral site), N.C. State, @Xavier, @Iowa, vs. Michigan, @Minnesota, @Ohio State, and vs. Maryland. The 5/12 loss to a radically under-seeded Oregon team was disappointing, but the Badgers were an OT bounce or two away from a share of the B1G title and successfully re-established the program’s winning ways.
64. 2013 Wisconsin Badgers: 23-12/12-6; KP: 22.57, #12; SRS: 18.87, #11; 5-seed, lost to Mississippi in round of 64.
Yes, another Wisconsin team that had a very good season against a really tough schedule but lost a 5/12 first round NCAA matchup. This was the Bo Ryan team that most matched the negative stereotypes with an adjusted tempo in the 300s and a team the relied on defense (#73 in Off on KP, #2 in Def). In fact, while you shouldn’t compare efficiency numbers across years, if you did, this is the second-best defense in the B1G in the KenPom era (for the surprising #1, keep reading). While Ryan Evans shooting jump shot FTs got some laughs, beating conference champ Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington and on a neutral court at the B1G tournament is not joke. Neither going 2-0 vs. national runner-up Michigan (even if one win required a miracle). But yes, it could be painful to watch. In six of the twelve losses, UW was held to 50 points or fewer, including an atrocious 57-46 loss to Mississippi (UW shot 25% from the floor) in the NCAA tournament that took some of the bloom off of the season.
63. 2008 Michigan State Spartans: 27-9/12-6; KP: 21.15, #19; SRS: 16.32, #16; 5-seed, lost to Memphis in Sweet 16
Bigger and better things awaited most of these Spartans in 2009, but Drew Neitzel senior campaign was plenty good on its own. MSU finished fourth in the B1G, but second-fourth was basically a coin flip and the Spartans, unlike Indiana and Purdue, did advance to the Sweet 16 thanks to an impressive win over 4-seed Pitt. Add in non-conference wins over BYU (8-seed) and Texas (2-seed), and the overall profile is pretty robust. Unfortunately any chance of a patented Izzo March run were rudely interrupted by Derrick Rose and an elite Memphis team. Here’s an example of a teams significantly aided by their NCAA tournament performance. Had they lost in the round of 32, they’re probably back in the 70s.
Green Akers: Step 2 of the build to 2009 involved more seasoning for Morgan and Suton while also adding a sizzling trio of freshmen in PG Kalin Lucas, SG Chris Allen, and SF Durrell Summers. There were some very forgettable nights in the conference season; a loss to Todd Lickliter Iowa is a stank that’s hard to get out.
62. 2006 Iowa Hawkeyes: 25-9/11-5; KP: 18.22, #21; SRS: 14.18, #16; 3-seed, lost to Northwestern State in round of 64.
By KP AdjD, this was the best defense in the B1G during the KenPom era (2002-present). and the Hawkeyes were #1 in the NCAA in 2006 with Greg Brunner and Erek Hansen making it almost impossible for opponents to get clean looks inside. The B1G was awful this year (nobody made the Sweet 16), but this was the best Iowa team of the Steve Alford era, finished tied for second, a game behind Ohio State. Iowa won the B1G tournament, taking down the Buckeyes in the title game, and seemed primed to build on the momentum in the NCAA Tournament. Alas, Iowa blew a 17-point lead in the games final 9 minutes, losing on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to 14-seed Northwestern State. This massive upset cost Iowa pride of place among 2006 teams, and the fall just behind the ‘06 versions of OSU and Illinois.
61. 2012 Michigan Wolverines: 24-10/13-5; KP: 17.52, #22; SRS 13.19, #30; 4-seed, lost to Ohio in round of 64
The opening-round loss to Ohio was certainly disappointing (though it helped give the world the John Groce era at Illinois), but Michigan managed to claim a shared of the regular-season title with 1-seed Michigan State and Final Four-bound Ohio State. Besides beating each of those teams, the Wolverines added non-conference wins over tourney bound Memphis and Iowa State teams, a road win over Purdue, and home wins over Wisconsin and Indiana, both of whom made the Sweet 16. It’s easy to forget now, given what Michigan did in 2013, but this was a very good team by most standards.
60. 2006 Ohio State Buckeyes: 26-6/12-4: KP: 20.68, #14; SRS: 16.08, #14; 2-seed, lost to Georgetown in round of 32
The advanced numbers and a #2 seed are impressive, but I honestly think this is the weakest team to win an outright B1G title over the time period. They did beat LSU, who made the Final Four, in the non-conference, but against B1G teams that made the NCAA tournament (none of whom made the Sweet 16), OSU was only 3-4. In the tournament, the Buckeyes had to work to put away 15-seed Davidson and got throttled in the second round by 7-seed Georgetown, 70-52. A Sweet 16 appearance certainly would’ve moved them ahead of ‘06 Illinois.
59. 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes: 24-8/11-5; KP: 19.76, #17; SRS: 16.14, #17; 4-seed, lost to Missouri in round of 32
You probably don’t remember Brian Brown, but he was an important piece off the bench as a freshman on OSU’s ‘99 Final Four team (by the time of the NCAA tournament, he was actually starting) and then started every game his final three seasons in Columbus, leading Ohio State to part of the four-way tie for the B1G title in ‘02 and winning the conference tournament. But for an OT loss in Madison, Ohio State could’ve had the title outright. No matter, it was still a very successful season with a win @Breslin, a 2-0 record vs. quad-champ Illinois, and a win over NCAA runner-up Indiana. The second round tournament loss to 12-seed Missouri was disappointing, but Mizzou had been ranked as high as #2 in the regular season and went on to make the Elite Eight. This was the last bit of happiness in the Jim O’Brien era in Columbus.
58. 2006 Illinois Fighting Illini: 26-7/11-5; KP: 23.20, #9; SRS: 17.20, #12; 4-seed, lost to Washington in round of 32
Yes, Ohio State (#60) won the regular season and Iowa (#62) won the conference tournament, but Illinois was better. With Dee Brown and James Augustine running it back from the famed ‘05 team, Illinois went undefeated in the non-conference posting wins over Wichita State (Sweet 16), North Carolina, Xavier, and Georgetown (Sweet 16). In conference play, they added a sweep of MSU, and wins over Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana, all of whom made the tournament. Had OSU come to Champaign, an Illinois victory would’ve gained them a share of the regular season title. Unfortunately, a scoring drought down the stretch against Washington let the Huskies rally from an 11-point deficit and keep the Illini from reaching the Sweet 16.
57. 2016 Purdue Boilermakers: 25-9/15-3; KP: 23.85, #9; SRS: 20.17, #9; 5-seed, lost to Little Rock in round of 64
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Purdue had two potentially dominant interior players who weren’t exactly complementary. For a fair amount of the year, the Boilers looked Final Four caliber, but a listless home loss early in the B1G season exposed some weaknesses. Okay, 2022 Purdue looks better than this version, and they probably won’t lose in the opening round, but it’s not a totally baseless comparison. For all the advanced stats love, the resume is a little thin, especially away from Mackey, though they did post road wins over Pitt and UW. The OT regular season win over MSU was a classic, too. Had Purdue made the Sweet 16, they definitely would’ve jumped ahead of 2016 Maryland, at least.
56. 2017 Michigan Wolverines: 26-12/10-8; KP: 23.05, #20; SRS: 18.80, #20; 7-seed, lost to Oregon in Sweet 16
Michigan treaded water for much of the B1G season, but found their form in March, becoming the first B1G team to win four games in four days to take the tournament title. Those wins, most critically the OT win over B1G champ Purdue in the quaterfinals, took Michigan from the bubble to a 7-seed where they won a thrilling first round matchup with Marcus Smart, Coach Brad Underwood, and Oklahoma State, and then advanced to the Sweet 16, knocking off 2-seed Louisville in what was Rick Pitino’s last game with the Cardinals. The run ended in the Sweet 16, though, in a heartbreaking one-point loss to Oregon, who would go on to reach the Final Four. It’s easy to overlook this team given the NCAA title game appearance in 2018, but this season can stand on its own.
55. 2016 Maryland Terrapins: 27-9/12-6; KP: 20.25, #22; SRS: 16.71, #24; 5-seed, lost to Kansas in Sweet 16
A preseason #3 national ranking rendered this season a disappointment in the eyes of many, but 27 wins and a Sweet 16 appearance (Maryland’s only since 2003) are still impressive achievements. Even at 22-3/10-2, a really big season seemed to be possible, but a 2-4 finish to the regular season caused some angst, especially a road loss to a terrible Minnesota team (2-16 in B1G play). This is unfortunate as Maryland had a thrilling win @Wisconsin (Sweet 16), and won vs. Iowa, vs. Purdue, and vs. Michigan. A loss to MSU in the semis of the B1G tournament (in an intense game) probably kept Maryland from jumping up to the 3-line. Wins over South Dakota State and Hawaii earned the Terps a Sweet 16 showdown with Kansas, but the Jayhawks turned a 2-point halftime lead into a bit of a laugher, and Maryland hasn’t seen the second weekend of the tournament since.
54. 2020 Wisconsin Badgers: 21-10/14-6; KP: 18.95, #22; SRS: 15.95, #26; 4-seed (projected), no NCAA tournament
There was a three-way tie for the B1G title in 2020 and, as a reward for winning a title, I am going to try to rank those three teams, even if it’s just throwing darts. Wisconsin looked dead in the water at 13-10/6-6 and dealing with the in-season transfer of a double-digit scorer. But then the Badgers ripped off eight straight wins, including @Michigan and @Indiana, to snag a share of the title. Lots of long winning streaks end abruptly with upset losses in the NCAA tournament, but UW had found an offensive rhythm to match a typically good Badger defense and they featured very balance scoring. The Badgers were no immune to a first round upset, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see this group reach the Sweet 16 either. Only four teams that won at least a share of a B1G regular season title are ranked lower than this UW version, so, if anything, this may be a cautious ranking.
53. 2010 Wisconsin Badgers: 24-9, 13-5; KP: 23.56, #9; SRS, 17.84, #11; 4-seed, lost to Cornell in round of 32
A home loss to an Illinois team that missed the NCAA tournament cost UW a share of the B1G title, and the second round loss to Cinderella Cornell cost UW a top-50 ranking, but this was still a very good team. They beat each of the tri-champs—MSU, OSU, and Purdue—in Madison as well as knocking off eventual national champion Duke in the ACC/B1G challenge. Add in non-conference wins vs. Marquette (6-seed) and a neutral site win over Maryland (4-seed) and UW notched an impressive array of regular season wins. I believe there are four teams in the top 50 who won neither a share of the regular season title, nor the B1G tournament, nor made the Sweet 16. The 2010 Badgers almost joined them. But when you see two of those team next week, remember that UW lost their opening game in the B1G tournament and had an ugly loss to Green Bay.
52. 2009 Purdue Boilermakers: 27-10/11-7: KP: 21.84, #18; SRS: 16.44, #18; 5-seed, lost to Connecticut in round of 32
Coming off of a 15-3 B1G record in 2008, the 11-7 showing was a bit of a disappointment for the Baby Boilers. But Purdue then won their first (and, to date, only) B1G tournament title, and then advanced to the Sweet 16 where they gave 1-seed UConn a pretty good game for 30 minutes. The regular season featured a dominating win over national runner-up MSU, a sweep of Wisconsin, and a win over Ohio State. Once in the tournament, the Boilers dodged an upset bid from a game Northern Iowa team and then beat 4-seed Washington by two in a thrilling affair.
51. 2020 Maryland Terrapins: 24-7/14-6; KP: 21.12, #11; SRS: 17.82, #14; 3-seed (projected), no NCAA tournament
Go to #55 above and adjust slightly. These Terps were sitting at 22-4/12-3 before losing three of their last five (and needed a borderline miracle to win @Minnesota). Nonetheless, the unblemished non-conference slate featured some resume-enhancing wins (Rhode Island, Marquette, and Notre Dame), and their 14-6 conference record included sweeps of Illinois and Indiana, a win at tri-champ MSU and home wins over likely tournament teams Michigan, Rutgers, and Ohio State. Anthony Cowan and Jalen Smith formed an excellent inside-outside tandem, and there was plenty help from Aaron Wiggins, Darryl Morsell, and Eric Ayala. The slide at the end wasn’t reassuring, but this still looked to be quite possibly Maryland’s best B1G version and a Sweet 16 berth well within reach.