50. 2012 Indiana Hoosiers: 27-9/11-7; KP: 22.55, #9; SRS: 18.63, #9; 4-seed, lost to Kentucky in Sweet 16
The 2013 season is built up to such an extent that it’s easy to forget how much Indiana accomplished the year before. There was a three-way tie for the conference title that year, and Indiana beat each tri-champ—Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State—in Bloomington. Add in a convincing road wins over Purdue (round of 32) and N.C. State (Sweet 16) and a neutral site win over NCAA participant Notre Dame, and this is a pretty good overall profile. Fifth place in the B1G, and not-great losses @Nebraska and @Iowa put a cap on things, but there’s nothing wrong with a Sweet 16 appearance. And, as far as memorable moments go, very few teams ranked ahead of this IU squad can match Christian Watford’s heroics:
49. 2013 Michigan State Spartans: 27-9/13-5 KP: 24.17, #10; SRS: 18.63, #12; 3-seed, lost to Duke in Sweet 16
A bit forgotten, this Spartan squad happened to come up a game short of a B1G title in one of the stronger years for the conference in recent memory. Aside from a season-opening loss to UConn, every loss was to a KP top-20 team, and six of the eight were to teams ranked #7 or better by KP. Getting swept by Indiana cost them a title, but don’t overlook the neutral site win over Kansas (1-seed), sweep of Wisconsin (4-seed) or home wins over Ohio State (Elite 8) and Michigan (national runner-up). And to reach the Sweet 16, MSU had to get past a 30-win Memphis team in the second round, something they did with aplomb, 70-48. Unfortunately Seth Curry went off in the Sweet 16 and Duke advanced to the Elite 8 at Sparty’s expense.
48. 2021 Ohio State Buckeyes: 21-10/12-8; KP: 23.58, #11; SRS: 18.25, #10; 2-seed, lost to Oral Roberts in round of 64
Yes, losing in the first round as a 2-seed is ugly. And yes, losing four straight conference games to end the regular season is ugly. But there’s a neutral court win over UCLA (Final Four), road wins over Illinois (1-seed), Iowa (2-seed), Wisconsin (round of 32), Rutgers (round of 32) and Maryland (round of 32). Those are five damn good road wins (yes, Covid, I understand). And the B1G tournament run to the title game featured thrilling victories over Purdue and B1G champ Michigan (1-seed, Elite 8). It’s not a season likely to be remembered all the fondly down the road, which is unfortunate given that this team notched so many quality victories.
47. 2021 Iowa Hawkeyes: 22-9/14-6; KP: 26.87, #7; SRS: 21.40, #6; 2-sed, lost to Oregon in round of 32
While likely overrated by the advanced numbers, this was still an excellent Iowa team. Getting swept by Indiana was head-scratching (as was the OT loss @Minnesota), but it was just bad luck that Illinois and Michigan didn’t have to come to Iowa City. Iowa beat UNC in non-conference, swept three games from Wisconsin, two from Sparty and Rutgers, and beat Maryland and Ohio State on the road. Every team can ask “what if?” to some extent, but Iowa in March (w/o Jack Nunge, and with a banged-up C.J. Fredrick) was leaking oil, as became evident in the second-round loss to an athletic Oregon squad. While a conference title or deep NCAA run eluded this team, they were one of the better offenses in the KenPom era—led by Luka Garza, of course—and provided their fair share of entertaining basketball.
46. 2017 Wisconsin Badgers: 27-10/12-6; KP 22.99, #21; SRS: 19.40, #17; 8-seed, lost to Florida in Sweet 16
The 8-seed remains a bizarre decision to this day, and finishing with a 12-6 conference record when you were once sitting at 10-1 (21-3 overall) is awkward. But this was a good team, led by seniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig, and sophomore Ethan Happ. The only loss to a non-NCAA team was @OSU, and there was a road win over Marquette, a sweep over Minnesota (5-seed) and home wins over Maryland (6-seed) and Michigan (Sweet 16). The Badgers righted the ship with a run to the B1G title game, which included a 28-point demolition of the only NCAA tournament team in Northwestern history. And in the NCAA tournament, the Badgers knocked off the overall #1, giving Villanova their only NCAA loss from 2016-2018. A heartbreaking loss to Florida on an OT buzzer-beater ended the Badger run or else, with 7-seed South Carolina waiting in the regional final, UW might have ended up a lot higher in these rankings.
45. 2012 Wisconsin Badgers: 26-10/12-6; KP 24.09, #8; SRS: 19.04, #8; 4-seed, lost to Syracuse in Sweet 16
A 1-3 start in B1G play meant UW missed a piece of the B1G title by a game in a really deep year for the conference. But there were still plenty of accomplishments in Jordan Taylor’s senior season. The nonconference brought wins over BYU and UNLV, both tournament teams. In conference play the Badgers won @Purdue (round of 32) vs. Indiana (Sweet 16) and @Ohio State (Final Four). After notching a second win over Indiana at the B1G tournament, Wisconsin advanced the to the Sweet 16 before falling to 1-seed Syracuse by a point in a thrilling game that saw UW hit fourteen 3’s and only seven 2 pt. FGs. Had the Badgers won, they would have advance to a Elite Eight showdown with Ohio State, who you’ll see later in the countdown.
44. 2017 Purdue Boilermakers: 27-8/14-4; KP 23.12, #21; SRS: 20.13, #15; 4-seed, lost to Kansas in Sweet 16
The Boilermakers were absolutely obliterated by Kansas in their Sweet 16 matchup, which probably affects memories of this team. However, they did win the B1G outright by multiple games. So, even with a limited non-conference profile—beating Notre Dame (5-seed) was nice—and a quarterfinal exit in the B1G tournament, road wins over Michigan State (part of a season sweep), Maryland, and Northwestern (all tournament teams) indicate a strong squad. Add to that a win over 5-seed Iowa State to advance to the Sweet 16 (with a really fun showdown between Deonte Burton and Caleb Swanigan), and the Boilers had themselves a very successful season, overall.
43. 2002 Illinois Fighting Illini: 26-9/11-5; KP 23.21, #8; SRS: 19.20, #8; 4-seed, lost to Kansas in Sweet 16
Bill Self’s second Illini team entered the season ranked #3 and thus this team failed to live up to expectations. Plus, with Deron Williams and Dee Brown arriving on campus in the fall of 2002, Frank Williams, Brian Cook, and Robert Archibald tend to go under-appreciated. That said, a share of the B1G title and a Sweet 16 appearance are nothing to scoff at. The non-conference saw wins over four tournament teams: Gonzaga (6-seed), Penn (11-seed), Southern Illinois (Sweet 16) and Missouri (Elite Eight), and, in conference play, the Illini defeated quad-champs Indiana and Wisconsin in Champaign (the latter by 32) and avenged their only home loss with a win in East Lansing that deprived MSU of a share of their fifth consecutive B1G title. When the NCAA tournament rolled around, Illinois dispatched San Diego State and Creighton before falling to 1-seed Kansas in a tight affair in the Sweet 16.
42. 2020 Michigan State Spartans: 22-9/14-6; KP 24.03, #7; SRS: 21.92, #4; 3-seed (projected), No NCAA tournament
The last 2020 team to be ranked. Again, it’s impossible to know just where to put teams who didn’t get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament. However, this team was giving me real 2010 Sparty vibes as they also got off to a slow start while following up on a Final Four run, but had clearly gotten the pieces together by the end of the regular season and looked like a reasonable bet to do damage in March. A three-game losing streak in early February dropped MSU to 8-5 in B1G play, and seemed to put their B1G title hopes on life support. But a 6-1 closing kick that featured wins @Illinois (KP #30), vs. Iowa (KP #23), @Maryland (KP #11), @PSU (KP #26) and vs. OSU (KP #8) got them a share of the title and served notice that MSU was ready for another deep run. Cassius Winston may not be remembered on the same level as Mateen Cleaves, and he may not have had Kalin Lucas’s slashing ability, but Winston was a consummate PG, and down the stretch in 2020 he was playing at a truly elite level.
41. 2003 Wisconsin Badgers: 24-8/12-4; KP 22.07, #12; SRS: 17.48, #14; 5-seed, lost to Kentucky in Sweet 16
Speaking of Elite PGs, this Badger team saw Devin Harris come into his own as a floor generally, most memorably hitting the game-winning FT with .4 on the clock in the B1G-deciding showdown with Illinois in the season’s final game. However, the star of the ‘03 Badgers was New Zealand import Kirk Penney, who contributed across the stat sheet while averaging 35 minutes a game. The non-conference was a little thin, and the 0-2 conference start caused some alarm, but the 12-2 run that netted the Badgers the B1G title featured eight wins by double digits. In the NCAA tournament, a Sweet 16 run ended at the hands of #1 overall Kentucky in a game that was close throughout. But the second-round win over Tulsa gave UW the season’s most memorable moment and earned Freddie Owens many a free drink.