Here we are. The first half of the top 10. There are six different schools in the top 10. Of those that didn’t make it, only Purdue is remotely surprising. And that’s only surprising if you think there’s room for more than one team in the top 10 that didn’t make the Final Four. There’s not. And I think you all know which non-Final Four B1G team had the best season. If not, see below. And anyway, in a week or two, maybe 2022 Purdue will have staked their claim.
10. 2002 Indiana Hoosiers: 25-12/11-5; KP: 24.80, #6; SRS: 19.19, #9; 5-seed, lost to Maryland in Championship Game
Some folks thought I had 2013 Indiana too low, and I’m sure some folks think I have this team too high. The ratings are NOT based on “what ifs,” but I already noted that if a put-back rolls in, rather than out, 2013 Indiana ties for the conference title and much of their argument is out the window. Now, RE: the ‘02 Hoosiers, what if the only game Jared Jeffries misses all year isn’t a 1-point home loss to Wisconsin? What would you think of the ‘02 Hoosiers if they’re outright B1G champs and make the title game?
In the real world, the 5-seed was a joke, and shouldn’t be held against Indiana. The five non-conference losses indicate a rocky beginning, but Southern Illinois and Kentucky both made the Sweet 16, Marquette and Miami (FL) were both 5-seeds, and Butler went 25-4 in the regular season. And Indiana beat NCAA qualifiers Notre Dame, Charlotte, and Texas. When looking at record, keep in mind that the Hoosiers were #2 in Strength of Schedule.
The clincher, though, was the NCAA run. Some people are inclined to look at the Elite Eight victory over Kent State and see an easy bracket, which is ridiculous. First, Kent State was REALLY good. Like, 21-game winning streak, #14 in KenPom good. Second, in the Sweet 16 Indiana beat Duke, the defending national champions and #1 team in that country. To add to the degree of difficulty, Indiana erased a 14-point deficit with 12 minutes to go:
And don’t forget the win over Oklahoma in the Final Four. Though a 2-seed, Oklahoma was everybody’s dark horse national title pick as they had regular season victories over 1-seeds Kansas and Maryland. Indiana erased a small halftime deficit and broke a 60-60 tie by ending the game on a 13-4 run.
Jeffries and Jeff Newton provided active, athletic defense inside, Tom Coverdale and Dane Fife could bust zones, Jarrad Odle was effective in the paint and on the glass, and A.J. Moye gave you a bit of everything off the bench. This was a well-rounded team that could play multiples styles and win, and they clearly earned their spot in the top 10 with their impressive March run.
9. 2013 Michigan Wolverines: 31-8/12-6; KP: 27.86, #4; SRS: 21.29, #5; 4-seed, lost to Louisville in Championship Game
You already know about the tip-in that rolled out in the regular season finale vs. Indiana. Don’t forgot, too, that the loss in Madison required a desperation half court buzzer-beating heave from Badger Ben Brust to force OT. It wasn’t hard to think Michigan was really the best B1G team in 2013 before the NCAA tournament started.
There was only one bad loss (@Penn State), and the undefeated non-conference run included wins over three tournament teams. Of course, it was the run to the title game where Michigan really distinguished itself. The offense remained exquisite and the defense found a new level.
After defeating an overmatched South Dakota State team in the first round, Michigan’s path to the title game went through KenPom’s #18 (VCU), #8 (Kansas), #2 (Florida), and #9 (Syracuse) teams before falling to top-ranked Louisville.
The Sweet 16 win over Kansas featured a comeback—14 down with 7 minutes to play; 10 down with just over 2 minutes to play—that was even more improbable than ‘02 Indiana knocking off Duke:
But the Elite Eight win over Florida was just an old-fashioned ass-kicking as the Wolverines raced to a 25-8 lead and never looked back.
Trey Burke was the NPOY, but Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson, and Nik Stauskas each contributed double-digit scoring, and Mitch McGary was borderline unstoppable during the tournament run.
This is the only team in the top 10 that didn’t win at least a share of the B1G regular season title. However, 2013 was a loaded year for the conference, and it’s pretty clear Michigan belongs in the top 10.
8. 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes: 31-8/13-5; KP: 30.07, #2; SRS: 23.95, #2; 2-seed, lost to Kansas in Final Four
I think this team is under-appreciated and even I may have them too low. Aside from Brandon Paul going off for 43 points in an Illinois upset of the Buckeyes, the other seven losses were to the national runner-up (Kansas, 2x), a 1-seed (MSU, 2x), Sweet 16 participants (Indiana, Wisconsin), and a B1G tri-champ (Michigan). The Buckeyes knocked off Florida (Elite 8) and obliterated Duke (2-seed) in non-conference play, and clinched their share of the B1G title by winning in East Lansing on the season’s final day in one of the most intensely competed games I’ve ever seen.
While MSU got revenge in the B1G title game, Ohio State rolled into the NCAA tournament as a dangerous 2-seed. The lineup was almost perfectly constructed. Aaron Craft was an excellent floor general, Jared Sullinger was a load inside, and Deshaun Thomas and Williams Buford were matchup nightmares given their length. The only real objection was a bad habit of losing games (@Indiana, @Illinois, vs. Wisconsin) late.
However, once the tournament started, OSU put away a pesky Gonzaga team with excellent defense down the stretch in the round of 32, and pulled away from Cincinnati with a 17-1 run midway through the 2nd half. In the Elite Eight, against a 34-2 Syracuse squad, Ohio State went on a 12-2 run early in the second, and kept the Orange at arms’ length most of the rest of the way, largely thanks to a 37-22 rebounding margin:
Unfortunately, the second half struggles would rear their head in the semifinal as Ohio State squandered the chance to avenge a regular season loss to Kansas, falling by a bucket after leading by double-digits in the first half. Given how good 2012 Kentucky was, Ohio State may not have won the title anyway, but it would have been really fun to see the Buckeyes get their shot, especially given what had happened in 2011. Nonetheless, this was an excellent squad that clearly merits inclusion in the top 10 on their own terms.
7. 2001 Michigan State Spartans: 28-5/13-3; No KenPom; SRS: 25.12, #4; 1-seed, lost to Arizona in Final Four
It really is amazing that MSU could lose Mateen Cleaves and Morris Peterson (and A.J. Granger) and still come back with one of the best teams in (relatively) recent B1G history. It certainly helps to have Jason Richardson and Zach Randolph on the roster, of course.
A typically tough nonconference schedule didn’t phase the Spartans as they beat three different top 10 opponents (North Carolina, Florida, Seton Hall) as well as defeating a Kentucky team that would find its way to the Sweet 16. In conference play, there was a last-second loss in Bloomington to a Hoosier team that grabbed a 4-seed, a road loss to Ohio State (5-seed) and a road loss to Illinois (1-seed) that allowed the Illini to split the regular season title with MSU. As the Spartans were in the middle of the longest home-court winning streak in B1G history, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that, had Illinois come to Breslin, the Spartans would have been outright B1G champs.
A quarterfinal loss in the B1G tournament to 7-seed Penn State was a shock. However, the B1G was loaded in 2001, as evidenced by PSU going on to make the Sweet 16, knocking off 2-seed North Carolina in the process. And it certainly didn’t stop MSU once the NCAA tournament started.
They received some bracket luck, not needing to beat a team seeded higher than 9 to make the Final Four, but generally they left no doubt, winning their regional games by 34 (Alabama State), 16 (Fresno State), 15 (Gonzaga), and 7 (Temple).
The Owls were not your typical 11-seed, as they were #13 in KenPom and #18 in SRS. But MSU led by double-digits most of the 2nd half and made all the late plays necessary to keep it from ever becoming a one-possession game:
In the Final Four, Arizona opened the second half on a 14-0 run and never looked back. Randolph and Richardson were off to the NBA, and it wasn’t until 2009 that MSU would claim another conference title.
While certainly not up to the standards of the 2000 national title team, very few B1G teams since, regardless of school, has as successful of a season as the ‘01 Spartans.
6. 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes: 34-3/16-2; KP: 33.47, #1; SRS: 25.84, #1; 1-seed, lost to Kentucky in Final Four
No team in the countdown is rated higher according to SRS. The Buckeyes started the season 24-0, and were the clear national title favorite for most of the year. One loss came in Madison on a day when Jordan Taylor went off. The other came in West Lafayette when E’Twaun Moore decided to drop 38. In Columbus, the Buckeyes beat Purdue by 23 and Wisconsin by...holy shit...38.
That day OSU had an effective FG% of 83% going 14-15 from 3 point range. I can’t find the cite, but I believe OSU’s 159.3 AdjOff rating is the best performance against power conference competition in the KenPom era. It was a jaw-dropping way to end the regular season. [This was a great shooting team most of the year, though. They led the country in Offensive Efficiency (125.0), and 3 pt shooting (42.3%, thanks to Jon Diebler’s 50.2% performance for the season).]
Of course, we all know what happened. OSU rolled through the B1G tournament and the first two rounds of the NCAAs, but fell in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky as William Buford had a miserable day shooting (2-16) and Kentucky’s Josh Harrellson (17, 10) held his own against Jared Sullinger.
It was a bitter, unexpectedly early, end to what had been an historic season. Still the dominance show in the first 36 games was more the enough to put OSU in the top 10 despite being not making the Final Four.