Your favorite Big Ten team the Purdue Boilermakers received their first 1 seed since 1996 and only their fourth 1 seed ever on Selection Sunday. Will they get back to the Final Four for the first time since 1980? Or will they fall short in the NCAA Tournament?
Luckily for those of us that still have to fill out our brackets, we can compare Purdue to previous teams that came before them. We have multiple examples of Big Ten programs that have swept the B1G regular season and B1G tournament. There are also multiple examples of programs that entered the regular season unranked and then received a 1 or a 2 seed. Purdue fits into both groups this season. Unfortunately for those of us looking for bracket inspiration, the results from these groups mostly conflict each other and don’t provide a lot of clarity.
Big Ten Champions x2
The Big Ten has had a conference tournament for basketball since 1998. On Sunday, Purdue became the 7th team to win the conference regular season outright and win the conference tournament. The previous teams that accomplished this feat tended to perform fairly well in the NCAA tournament.
1999 Michigan State Spartans - won B1G regular season by 6 games, Final Four
2005 Illinois Fighting Illini - won B1G regular season by 2 games, National Runner-up
2007 Ohio State Buckeyes - won B1G regular season by 2 games, National Runner-up
2008 Wisconsin Badgers - won B1G regular season by 1 game, Sweet 16
2011 Ohio State Buckeyes - won B1G regular season by 2 games, Sweet 16
2015 Wisconsin Badgers - won B1G regular season by 2 games, National Runner-up
Out of the six teams that performed this feat prior to Purdue you have three national runner-ups, one additional Final Four, and two Sweet 16s. That’s pretty good company to be in.
But wait, did Michigan State not win the conference when they were national champions? Well, an additional four teams split the conference regular season and won the conference tournament. Those teams also did pretty well in the NCAA tournament.
2000 Michigan State Spartans - split B1G regular season with OSU (OSU later vacated), National Champs
2010 Ohio State Buckeyes - split B1G regular season 3 ways, Sweet 16
2012 Michigan State Spartans - split B1G regular season 3 ways, Sweet 16
2019 Michigan State Spartans - split B1G regular season 2 ways, Final Four
If we look at all the previous Big Ten sweepers, Purdue looks guaranteed to make the Sweet 16 and better than even odds of a Final Four. Most Boiler bots would take those odds. But there is other history that Purdue has to overcome.
Preseason Unranked to 1 or 2 Seed
Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 36 teams have gone from unranked in the preseason AP poll to a 1 or a 2 seed. Purdue became team #37 when the committee awarded them a 1 seed on Selection Sunday.
Of those previous 36 teams, can you guess how many made a Final Four?
The answer is zero.
Just eight made the Elite 8. #1 Virginia Cavaliers lost in the first round in 2018 as did #2 Georgetown Hoyas in 2013 and #2 South Carolina Gamecocks in 1997. Not only did these 36 teams struggle to make the Elite 8 and beyond, the average team didn’t even make the Sweet 16.
Cropping the dataset to just the twelve previous 1 seeds in this group, only three made the Elite 8, while four failed to reach the Sweet 16. The 2012 Michigan State team that split the conference regular season title and won the Big Ten tournament was also a 1 seed that started the season unranked. They lost in the Sweet 16.
This depressing precedent may have you rethinking picking Purdue as a Final Four team and I wouldn’t blame you. But be careful before you just pick the 2 seed in their region to advance instead. Purdue may have been team #37 to go from unranked to a 1/2 seed, but Marquette Golden Eagles was team #38. Perhaps the committee is just trying to end this streak.