20. 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes: 29-8/13-5; KP: 25.42, #7; SRS: 20.19, #9; 2-seed, lost to Wichita State in Elite Eight
It’s easy to forget just what a run Ohio State was on in the early 2010s. Regular season titles in ‘10, ‘11, and ‘12; Conference tournament titles in ‘10, ‘11, and ‘13. It really probably is the best multiple year stretch that occurred entirely in the 2001-2022 period (obviously it’s not on par with MSU from ‘98-’01). Perhaps that’s what made the Elite Eight loss to Wichita State so stunning when it happened. The Buckeyes were 40 minutes away from back-to-back Final Fours and Wichita State was just on the upswing (and had gotten 13-seed LaSalle in the Sweet 16). But the Shockers dominated the game, and Ohio State hasn’t seen the second weekend of the tournament since. You just never know.
Don’t let that unfairly mar this team’s accomplishments, though. They split with conference champ Indiana, winning on the road in March, and would’ve grabbed a share of the title but for a missed Michigan tip-in on the season’s final day (see below). Six of the seven regular-season losses were to teams ranked #12 or better by KenPom. The seventh was a road game to an Illinois team that damn near made the Sweet 16. They beat national runner-up Michigan (and took them to OT in the other game), and beat Michigan State (Sweet 16) and Wisconsin (5-seed) twice each, including beating the latter two on a neutral court in back-to-back days to win the B1G tournament.
Aaron Craft was in his third year piloting things, and Deshaun Thomas and LaQuinton Ross provided plenty of matchup headaches for the opposition. Things almost ended prematurely in the tournament as Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State Cyclones staged a furious rally, turning a 69-56 deficit into a 75-74 lead, but Aaron Craft took a controversial charge (what else?), hit a FT, and then won the game on a three-pointer (WHAT?!?!) with less than a second to play.
19. 2014 Wisconsin Badgers: 30-8/12-6; KP: 25.89, #5; SRS: 19.69, #5; 2-seed, lost to Kentucky in Final Four
After a decade-plus of consistent regular season success and five Sweet 16 appearances, Bo Ryan finally broke through behind a breakout season from Frank Kaminsky. The regular season basically had three parts. Part I was a 16-0 start that included non-conference wins over Florida (Final Four) and @Virginia (1-seed). Part II was a 1-5 stretch that saw UW drop three home games, including one to a Northwestern team that finished 6-12 in conference play. Part III was the 8-1 finish to the season, including a dominant road win over conference champion Michigan. Running into a very hot MSU team in the B1G semis meant there was no conference title for the Badgers in 2014, but they did earn a 2-seed in the Milwaukee pod.
The season almost ended in Milwaukee.
After a perfunctory blowout of American in the opening-game, a very dangerous Oregon team dominated the latter stages of the first half, opening up a 49-37 lead after 20 minutes. UW rallied early in the second and led for much of the middle 10 minutes, but Oregon took the lead in with under 5:00 to go. With just over a minute to play, Ben Brust decided to have a moment:
Wisconsin punched their ticket to the Final Four with an OT win over Pac 12 champion Arizona in one of the most tense games you could ever hope to see. From the 12:00 mark of the second half onward (17:00 of game play), the lead was never greater than a single possession. But Kaminsky’s 28/11 night saw the Badgers through. The ride ended with a one point loss to Kentucky in the Final Four, but it was still a historic season for Wisconsin.
18. 2018 Michigan Wolverines: 33-8/13-5; KP: 24.20, #7; SRS: 19.03, #12, 3-seed, lost to Villanova in Championship Game
Mo Wagner paced things with one of the more efficient offensive seasons you’ll see (61% from 2; 39% from 3), but belying the stereotype about John Beilein, Michigan was actually led by their defense, which ranked #3 in the KenPom rankings.
Because Michigan needed to win four games in four days to win the B1G tournament, there’s a tendency to treat this team as a bit of a Cinderella. But that’s not really the case. They tied for fourth, but lost the tiebreaker for the double bye to 13-5 Nebraska (remember that???). They went 2-3 vs. the teams above them in the standings, but the two losses to Purdue were by 1 and 4 points, and the loss to OSU was in December. Additionally, they didn’t get a chance to host MSU. Suffice it to say it wasn’t that big of a surprise when Michigan won the conference tournament (beating MSU and Purdue in the process).
Entering the NCAA tournament on a 9-game winning streak, Michigan almost didn’t make it out of the first weekend:
After surviving Houston, the gods smiled on Michigan, and they defeated 7-seed Texas A&M in the Sweet 16, 9-seed Florida State in the Elite Eight, and 11-seed Loyola Chicago to make the title game. While they weren’t competitive vs. Villanova, there’s not much shame in that as I would argue that was the best CBB team since 2015 Kentucky, and best national champion since 2012 Kentucky.
17. 2013 Indiana Hoosiers: 29-7/14-4; KP: 29.31, #3; SRS: 24.92, #1, 1-seed, lost to Syracuse in Sweet 16
There are only two teams ranked higher who went out in the Sweet 16, and they both won the B1G tournament in addition to the regular season title. This was a really good team, in a really deep season for the B1G, that ran into a matchup nightmare (Syracuse’s 2-3 zone). In the non-conference, there was an OT stumble vs. Butler, but also a neutral court win over Georgetown (2-seed) and a blowout win over North Carolina. In conference play, the Hoosiers swept Michigan (title game) and Michigan State (Sweet 16) and beat Ohio State (Elite 8) on the road.
Coy Zeller and Victor Oladipo paced the #2 offense in the country (per KenPom). Christian Watford (48%) and Jordan Hulls (44%) were both deadly from three. And Yogi Ferrell hit the ground running as a freshman PG. If you were looking for warning signs, there was the 0-2 record against a rugged Wisconsin defense. It almost reared its head against Temple in the second round, but Indiana scored the game’s final 10 points to escape the upset bid. However, Syracuse held Indiana to 34% shooting (3-15 from 3), and blocked 11 Hoosier shots, ending Indiana’s season earlier than most would have expected.
While the NCAA tournament run was disappointing, Indiana’s most thrilling moment was among the most thrilling moments you’ll see anywhere on the list: last game of the regular season, outright conference title on the line, trailing Michigan 71-66 with less than a minute to play...
16. 2019 Purdue Boilermakers: 26-10/16-4; KP: 26.81, #9; SRS: 21.40, #10, 3-seed, lost to Virginia in Elite Eight
Yeah, 10 losses is a lot to be ranked this high. But, aside from the loss to a bad Notre Dame team that dropped them to 6-5, and the loss to NIT champ Texas, the other 8 were all to teams that not only made the NCAA tournament, but won a game. And one of those was among the most heartbreaking losses I’ve ever seen. So, um, let’s move on.
Carsen Edwards was insane all year, and his 36 point effort in an OT win @Wisconsin kicked off a 14-2 run to finish the regular season and earn a share of the conference title with a GREAT Michigan State team (they split the season series). A quarterfinal loss to Minnesota (the second loss to the Gophers in 10 days) probably cost Purdue a 2-seed, but the Boilers rolled through the first weekend of the tournament, including a jaw-dropping 87-61 demolition of defending national champion Villanova (Edwards had 42 points on 21 FGA).
In the Sweet 16, Purdue won a classic against 2-seed Tennessee. Although overshadowed by the Elite Eight game with Virginia, this was one of the very best games in the tournament, and showed that Purdue didn’t just live or die with Edwards. That’s not true. Purdue pretty much did live or die with Edwards, but dear lord did Ryan Cline have himself a second half: