40. 2016 Indiana Hoosiers: 27-8/15-3; KP: 23.05, #11; SRS: 19.59, #11; 5-seed, lost to North Carolina in Sweet 16
Somewhat overlooked by MSU’s B1G tournament run, coronation as natty favorites, and first-round face plant, the Hoosiers won the B1G regular season title by two games. I’m guilty as well, as I have that Spartans team ranked considerably higher. Why? Well, Indiana struggled in the nonconference, losing to mediocre UNLV and flat out bad Wake Forest. The win over Notre Dame was the only win of note. Second, Indiana was blown out by Sparty in the lone H2H game. Third, Indiana flamed out of the B1G tournament, losing their first game as the 1-seed. Guess what, though? This was a good team. 15-3 in conference play is never something to scoff at, and the Hoosiers advanced to the Sweet 16 with a satisfying second round win over 4-seed Kentucky as Yogi Ferrell and Thomas Bryant combined for 37 points.
39. 2004 Illinois Fighting Illini: 26-7/13-3; KP: 22.11, #13; SRS: 16.93, #19; 5-seed, lost to Duke in Sweet 16
Ah, the year before. The ‘04 Illini won an outright title and advance to the Sweet 16. A fine season by almost any measure, other than the one where you’re compared to the ‘05 Illini. Following a 20-point loss in the Kohl Center, Illinois was sitting at 12-5/3-3 and unranked. Their next loss was in the B1G title game. As good as 2005 went, it’s possible the last two months of this season marked the best hoops in Deron Williams’ college career as he led the Illini in both points and assists. The Illini throttled 4-seed Cincinnati 92-68 to make the Sweet 16, but then ran into a Final Four bound Duke squad that overpowered Illinois inside and hounded Williams into an off night shooting (though, if it is what persuaded Williams to return for his junior year, no Illini fans are complaining now). So, even if this season mostly set the stage for what was to follow, it was still a damn fine year in its own right.
38. 2011 Wisconsin Badgers: 25-9/13-5; KP: 23.84, #6; SRS: 18.77, #11; 4-seed, lost to Butler in Sweet 16
No B1G title for UW, so why are they ranked ahead of ‘04 Illinois and ‘16 Indiana? Well, neither of those two winning the conference over 2011 Ohio State either. The B1G sent seven teams to the tournament in 2011 and was clearly the top conference in the nation. Against those other six, UW went 7-6, beating both OSU (KP #1) and Purdue (KP #9). In fact, UW didn’t lose to a non-NCAA tournament team all year. The biggest blemish was the eyesore of a 36-33 loss to Penn State at the B1G tournament, but that Nittany Lion team made the B1G title game and grabbed an NCAA bid. [Would you believe UW was #2 in the nation in offense per KP the same year they scored 33 in a game?]. In the NCAA tournament, UW convincingly beat a 30-win Belmont team (#17 in KP entering the game) as Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer combined for 43, and advanced to the Sweet 16 with an 5 point win over Kansas State despite Jacob Pullen’s 38-point effort. The ride ended at the Sweet 16 with a loss to Butler, who would advance to the NCAA title game.
37. 2011 Purdue Boilermakers: 26-8/14-4; KP: 24.79, #9; SRS: 19.36, #8; 3-seed, lost to VCU in round of 32
It’s appropriate that ‘11 Purdue and ‘11 Wisconsin are right next to each other. The advanced stats are split on them, and, while UW went further in the NCAA, Purdue finished a game higher in the conference standings. Despite being without Robbie Hummel for the year, JaJuan Johnson and E’Twuan Moore capped off excellent careers in impressive style. The highlight was back-to-back late February home wins over Wisconsin and Ohio State, the latter a rather convincing 13-pt win over the #2 team in the nation. Besides these wins, Purdue went 7-1 against tournament teams Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, and Illinois, including a 3-0 record on the road. The only sour taste is the 1-3 finish to the season. While getting blitzed by 11-seed VCU in the second round was stunning at the time (more for the 18-point margin than for the loss itself), once VCU had finished their Final Four run, it made a bit more sense.
36. 2003 Michigan State Spartans: 22-13/10-6; KP: 20.26, #19; SRS: 16.12. #19; 7-seed, lost to Texas in Elite Eight
The Spartans won neither the regular-season nor the conference title, and 13 losses is a lot (and one of these was at home to a sub .500 Toledo team), so what are they doing here? Well, start with a non-conference road win over KP #1/NCAA tournament #1 overall Kentucky, and add in a run to the Elite Eight, and you’ve got a damn fine overall profile. Sitting at 14-11/6-6, MSU won their last four regular season games and entering the NCAA playing their best ball. A 15-point opening round win over Colorado was followed by a 68-46 annihilation of 2-seed Florida. In the Sweet 16, the Spartans took out Maryland in a thrilling game before falling to 1-seed Texas after hanging with them for 35 minutes or so.
35. 2003 Illini Fighting Illini: 25-7/11-5; KP: 24.47, #5; SRS: 19.82, #7; 4-seed, lost to Notre Dame in round of 32
Bill Self’s last Illinois team combined frosh Dee Brown and Deron Williams with senior league MVP Brian Cook. While a March loss in Madison cost Illinois the regular-season title, this was the B1G’s best team in 2003, and the Illini won the B1G tournament to prove it. The only marginally questionable loss was @Iowa, and they won a couple of NIT games. Illinois was flat out dominant at home, going undefeated and winning their four Feb/March home games by a combined 99 points, highlighted by a 70-40 stomping of Michigan State. A second round loss to a very good Notre Dame squad ended the season earlier than expected, and Self was out the door shortly thereafter. Still, this season shouldn’t be lost in the shuffle just because Illinois was in the middle of an excellent run of play during the early 00’s.
34. 2004 Wisconsin Badgers: 25-7/12-4; KP: 22.74, #6; SRS: 18.96, #7; 6-seed, lost to Pittsburgh in round of 32
I’m going to set aside my objectivity and just rant for a second: UW earning a #6 seed to the 2004 NCAA tournament is THE biggest travesty in the history of seeding. During an era when the selection committee cared only about the RPI, here are the top 6 seeds in the East Rutherford regional (KP ranking in parentheses):
- #1 Saint Joseph’s (#3)
- #2 Oklahoma State (#4)
- #3 Pittsburgh (#5)
- #4 Wake Forest (#15)
- #5 Florida (#25)
- #6 Wisconsin (#6)
That’s right, by KP, four of the six best teams in America were placed in the same regional, and the #6 team overall was given a 6-seed! End rant.
B1G MVP Devin Harris led UW to a second place finish, one game behind Illinois (who didn’t have to go to East Lansing). Wisconsin swept 3 games from Michigan State, including a road win in MSU’s season finale that cost the Spartans a share of the conference title (they had already hung the banner and were planning on unfurling it that night), and took two of three from Illinois, including a 70-53 blowout in the B1G title game. The Badgers’ season ended in the second round in an absolute war against a 30-win Pittsburgh team who had won the Big East regular season title over eventual national champion UConn. That’s right. That was a round of 32-caliber game, according to that year’s selection committee.
33. 2018 Purdue Boilermakers: 30-7/15-3; KP: 26.27, #5; SRS: 23.41, #5; 2-seed, lost to Texas Tech in Sweet 16
I go back-and-forth about the quality of the B1G in 2018. It was 5th in KP’s conference rankings, and the bottom of the league was a lot worse than usual. But Purdue, MSU, and Michigan all won 30-plus games and Michigan made the title game. All of this is to say that maybe I have Purdue too low. I know Boiler fans will point to Isaac Haas’s injury and suggest the team was ready for a deeper run. Maybe. But Texas Tech just outplayed them. At 23-2/12-0, this looked like a truly elite team, but there was a fair amount of close game good fortune in that start, and what cost Purdue a share of the regular season title was a loss to the only Wisconsin team to miss the NCAA tournament since 1998. The regular season sweep of Michigan was great, but Purdue lost their only matchups against MSU (road) and Ohio State (away), meaning that Purdue only had four regular-season wins over tournament teams (Michigan 2x, Butler, Arizona). We’ll have this conversation again very soon, and I suspect I’m more down than most on the B1G’s best in 2018.
32. 2019 Michigan Wolverines: 30-7/15-5; KP: 28.32, #6; SRS: 21.82, #7; 2-seed, lost to Texas Tech in Sweet 16
While not quite up to the level of the 2018 national runners-up, the ‘19 Wolverines actually put together a more consistent regular season, missing out on a share of a B1G title by a game, and falling in the B1G title game. The culprit? Three losses to Michigan State from Feb. 24-March 17. Losing to a rival is bitter, but that was an elite Spartan squad. Led by freshman phenom Ignas Brazdeikis, Michigan notched regular-season wins over North Carolina (1-seed), @Villanova (6-seed), Purdue (Elite Eight), and Wisconsin (5-seed). They also went a collective 6-0 against Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio State, all of whom made the NCAA tournament. After blowing out Montana and Florida to make the Sweet 16, the run was rudely ended by eventual NCAA runner-up Texas Tech. Nonetheless, an excellent season in John Beilein’s final year with the team.
31. 2018 Michigan State Spartans: 30-5/12-4; KP: 25.41, #6; SRS: 22.41, #4; 3-seed, lost to Syracuse in round of 32
See my comments on #33 above. A 28-3/16-2 regular season screams “dominant team,” yet I was totally unsurprised at the second round exit at the hands of Syracuse. More so than most years, there were a lot of low-calorie B1G wins in 2018. Further, MSU only played Purdue and Michigan once each in the regular season, both at home, and dropped the game to the Wolverines. They also lost to Michigan in the semis of the B1G tournament, for good measure. Indeed, the loss @Ohio State was the only true road game against an NCAA tournament game all year. The neutral site win vs. North Carolina was nice, and there’s no doubting the talent on the roster (Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Jaren Jackson), but, honestly, #31 might be too generous, depending on your thoughts about the conference in 2018 (again, see #33 above).