30. 2005 Wisconsin Badgers: 25-9/11-5; KP: 20.81, #17; SRS: 16.76, #18; 6-seed, lost to North Carolina in Elite Eight
I really don’t think this UW team was better than the 2004 squad that had Devin Harris and got hosed by the selection committee. But here we are. The run to the Elite Eight was helped by upsets as UW beat teams seeded 11, 14, and 10. At the same time, they beat an Elite Eight-bound Alabama in the non-conference and Final Four participant Michigan State during conference play. Of their nine losses, four of them were to teams that played for the national title that year, and UW gave eventual national champion UNC a very good game in the Elite Eight, having the ball, in a one possession game, with two minutes to go.
29. 2016 Michigan State Spartans: 29-6/13-5; KP: 27.97, #5; SRS: 22.59, #4; 2-seed, lost to Middle Tennessee State in Round of 64
Go ahead and jump ahead to #28 for a second, then come back. I totally pulled an audible here. At no point in 2016 prior to the NCAA tournament did anybody think the 2016 Spartans were worse than the previous year’s team, but here we are...Obviously this season leaves a much worse taste in the mouths of Spartan fans than ‘14-’15, and the fact that MSU did NOT win the B1G regular season keeps it from ranking higher. As is, it’s probably the biggest (or second, depending on your thoughts on #24) “What if?” in Izzo’s career. This team was essentially co-favorites with Kansas heading into the tournament, and was better built to beat Villanova than Kansas was. However, the best offense of the Izzo era ran into an MTSU squad that shot 56% from the floor (58% from 3), and that was all she wrote. The regular season featured two losses to an Iowa Hawkeyes team that looked Final Four worthy until a February fade (Iowa was #2 in KP as late as Feb. 11), and three one-point losses. They won the B1G tournament. They beat Kansas (Elite Eight) on a neutral court. They just laid an egg at the very worst time.
28. 2015 Michigan State Spartans: 27-12/12-6; KP: 21.72, #15; SRS: 17.46, #17; 7-seed, lost to Duke in Final Four
It might sound like a back-handed compliment to say that this was the worst B1G team during the period to make the Final Four, but these Spartans should wear it as a compliment. There was a dreadful loss to Texas Southern and a couple of funky home losses in conference play (Minnesota and Illinois, neither of whom went dancing). But MSU was also a missed call away from probably winning the B1G tournament, and their path to the Final Four was beyond rugged, beating Virginia (KP #6), Oklahoma (KP #11), and Louisville (KP #17) to get to the Final Four. They ran out of steam against Duke, but the win over Louisville is essentially the epitome of a Tom Izzo March victory.
27. 2010 Michigan State Spartans: 28-9/14-4; KP: 20.13, #20; SRS: 15.33, #23; 5-seed, lost to Butler in Final Four
Yeah, of the three teams that tied for the B1G title in 2010, MSU went the furthest in the NCAA tournament and are still the lowest rated here. I understand that, but stand behind the call. While Boiler fans want to pretend that Purdue was guaranteed a national title until Hummel got hurt, such hyperbole doesn’t change the fact that MSU got their share of the conference title by getting to play a Hummel-less Purdue. Nor does it change the fact that MSU went out in the quarters of the B1G tournament, or that MSU’s only game against Ohio State was in Breslin, and the Buckeyes won anyway. All that said, let’s celebrate MSU. They MADE the Final Four, DESPITE Kalin Lucas getting hurt in the second round. The win over Tennessee in the Elite Eight was a ramshackle affair of the type that Izzo specializes in. The win over Maryland in the second round was high drama. Greivis Vasquez leading a frenetic comeback as Maryland erases a 12 point deficit with only five minutes to play, but then losing on this:
26. 2014 Michigan Wolverines: 28-9/15-3; KP: 23.44, #12; SRS: 18.52, #12; 2-seed, lost to Kentucky in Elite Eight
A forgotten team given the 2013 run to the national title game, but this Wolverine squad followed that up by winning the regular-season title by multiple games AND making an Elite Eight run. The only bad loss was to Charlotte on a neutral court, and that was more than outweighed by road wins against Wisconsin (Final Four) and Michigan State (Elite Eight), the latter part of a regular season sweep. The season ended when Kentucky went 7-11 from deep, including one from Aaron Harrison with 2 seconds to play, but the Wolverines still proved they weren’t a one-season wonder.
25. 2021 Illinois Fighting Illini: 24-7/16-4; KP: 29.06, #4; SRS: 23.25, #3; 1-seed, lost to Loyola Chicago in Round of 32
Argue about Covid cancellations all you want, there’s no disputing this was the hottest team in the B1G last year down the stretch. Counting the B1G tournament, the Illini finished the regular season on a 14-1 run vs. conference competition with multiple wins over Iowa (2-seed) and Ohio State (2-seed) and a 23-point thrashing of Michigan (1-seed) in Ann Arbor. Evidently, the only thing that could stop them was a doughy, undersized center initiating the opposing team’s offense from the top of the key. The shocking loss to Loyola aside, this was pretty much the epitome of how to construct a team. Dominant big, elite wing/guard, complementary players who know their role. Illinois made KP’s top 10 for both offense and defense and just ran up against one of the best mid-major game plans since Brad Stevens was at Butler. Doesn’t erase the sting at all, but this was an outstanding Illinois team.
24. Michigan State Spartans: 29-9/12-6; KP: 23.95, #9; SRS: 19.35, #7; 4-seed, lost to UConn in Elite 8
Curious. The preseason #2 (in the nation) Spartans were cruising along at 18-1/7-0 when they threw a rod, collapsing to a 5-7 finish. Most of the losses were close and almost all to good teams (not the home loss to NIT bound Illinois, though). And then they just turned it on at the B1G tournament, running Wisconsin (Final Four) and Michigan (#26 above) off the court and becoming one of the favorites to win it all in a wide-open year. However, after winning an absolute bloodbath against 1-seed Virginia in the Sweet 16, Sparty decided to only attempt 17 2-pt FGs against UConn in the Elite Eight (6’10” Adreian Payne attempted four 2s and ten 3s) and an old bugaboo, turnovers, helped do MSU in, despite them holding a nine-point lead early in the second half, as MSU went about six minutes without scoring. With Wisconsin in the Final Four and 8-seed Kentucky in the title game (both teams that MSU had beaten during the regular season), it sure seemed like there was a national title there for the taking, but it was not to be.
23. 2010 Purdue Boilermakers: 29-6/14-4; KP: 22.05, #15; SRS: 17.52, #13; 4-seed, lost to Duke in Sweet 16
Sorry Boiler fans, this is the best you’re gonna get out of the “What if?” game. What happens if Hummel doesn’t get hurt? I don’t know. Outright B1G title? Quite possible. But beyond that, it’s impossible to predict. The last 20 years are filled with great B1G teams that didn’t win it all, or even make the Final Four. Hummel was a critical part of this team, but we just encountered a squad (see #27 above) that lost the reigning B1G POY and still found their way to the Final Four the very same season. It sucks. Hummel was an excellent player. But it’s not unprecedented, and you’re judged in part by how you handle adversity. In certain idle moments, I conclude that the likeliest “healthy Hummel” scenario is either the last 1-seed or first 2-seed, and they end up in the West on the opposite side of Syracuse. Thus, either in the Sweet 16 or the Elite 8, they run into Butler, and we are treated to a trio of matchups—Robbie Hummel/Gordon Hayward, JaJuan Johnson/Matt Howard, and E’Twaun Moore/Shelvin Mack—that threaten to causes internet outages throughout the state of Indiana.
22. 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes: 29-8/14-4; KP: 24.99, #7; SRS: 19.48, #6; 2-seed, lost to Tennessee in Sweet 16
Evan Turner WAS the best player in the B1G in 2010, and Ohio State won a share of the regular season title, beating both Purdue and MSU on the road, and winning the conference tournament too. The win in Mackey came after a 1-3 conference start (yes, OSU had to play 4 of their first 5 conference games on the road), and may have saved their season. The Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee deprived B1G fans of a rubber match with MSU in the Elite Eight which, let’s be honest, would have been a LOT of fun. Given what Ohio State accomplished the next few years, it’s easy to overlook the 2010 Buckeyes, but it’s hard to argue with the season they put together.
21. 2007 Wisconsin Badgers: 30-6/13-3; KP: 25.45, #8; SRS: 19.28, #9; 2-seed, lost to UNLV in Round of 32
See #23 above. Injuries suck. This is the highest ranked team that didn’t win the B1G regular-season or conference title, and also didn’t get out of the first weekend of the B1G tournament. UW was 26-3/12-2 heading to Columbus for a 1 vs. 2 showdown (actually each team was #1 in one of the polls) that would decide the B1G title. Up to that point, UW had beaten three NCAA tournament teams in non-conference play (including then #2 Pitt), and handled OSU in Madison. However, that day in Columbus leading rebounder and third-leading scorer Brian Butch severely dislocated his elbow and UW wasn’t the same. They managed to only lose to OSU by a point without him, but barely beat MSU in Madison to end the regular season. In a third showdown in the B1G title game, OSU rolled. UW got a 2-seed, but struggled in the first round and fell to Lon Kruger’s senior-laden UNLV team in the second round. Wisconsin probably couldn’t have beaten a Florida team that went back-to-back in 2007, but given that OSU made the title game, it’s clear the ceiling was quite high.