Welcome to 2021, and may it be a better year for you than 2020. We wish that for everyone.
For Pac-12 Friday, we shift focus back to the B1G for basketball, just like we did in the fall for football historical analysis. And like we did with the Pacific-12 hoops retrospective, we will go back to the 1950s when the NCAA Tournament first established itself as the legitimate championship for the sport.
Without any more explanation, here we go! Enjoy …
Honorable Mention: 1957 Michigan State Spartans (16-10)
The record is pedestrian, but this team won the B1G with a 10-4 conference mark while playing the fourth-toughest schedule in the country. In the NCAA tourney—which only took league champions at the time—the 11th-ranked Spartans knocked No. 17 Notre Dame and No. 3 Kentucky to reach the Final Four. There, MSU lost to eventual champion and No. 1 North Carolina in triple overtime. Deflated from that, the Spartans also got beat by the two-time defending national champs from the University of San Francisco in the third-place game.
10. 1956 Iowa Hawkeyes (20-6)
Winners of the league with a 13-1 record in B1G play, the Hawkeyes advanced all the way to the national final before losing to Bill Russell and the USF Dons. The only conference loss was by one point to No. 20 Michigan State. Iowa finished No. 4 in the Associated Press poll taken at the end of the regular season before topping No. 9 Kentucky and No. 15 Temple to reach the title game against No. 1 San Francisco on a 17-game winning streak. But the Hawkeyes made just 32.9 percent of their shots against the Dons in the painful defeat.
9. 1950 Ohio State Buckeyes (22-4)
After plowing through the B1G season with an 11-1 record, the No. 2 team in the country suffered an opening-round, one-point loss in the NCAA Tournament to eventual champion City College of New York. That defeat snapped a 12-game winning streak for the Buckeyes, who bounced back to win the consolation game of the regionals over No. 4 Holy Cross. But missing nine free throws against CCNY would haunt this Ohio State team and its longterm legacy in the annals of college basketball history.
8. 1952 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (22-4)
Never ranked worse than sixth all season, Illinois finished its regular season as the No. 2 squad in the country. Starting 11-0 helped a lot, and by the time the NCAAs rolled around, the Illini were 19-3 and ready to go. Beating No. 11 Dayton and No. 4 Duquesne got them to the Final Four, but there, the magic ran out against No. 10 St. John’s—Illinois missed 15 free throws in a two-point loss. The Illini did manage to restore some luster to the season by beating Santa Clara in the third-place game, however.
7. 1951 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (22-5)
This team played its final five games against Top 8 competition: Finishing the regular season as the No. 5 team in the country, Illinois lost its final game before the NCAA Tournament to No. 4 Kansas State. Then, the Illini opened March Madness with wins over No. 3 Columbia and No. 8 North Carolina State to reach the Final Four. However, No. 1 Kentucky dealt Illinois a two-point loss there, before the Illini beat No. 2 Oklahoma State in the third-place game. That’s the roughest stretch of closing games we’ve ever seen.
6. 1959 Michigan State Spartans (19-4)
Finishing No. 4 in the SRS and No. 7 in the AP poll, these Spartans posted a 12-2 record in the B1G, with both losses coming on the road. MSU opened the NCAA Tournament with a win over No. 20 Marquette, but unranked Louisville stopped the Spartans a game short of the Final Four with an upset 88-81 victory. MSU squandered a halftime lead in that loss by shooting just 36.9 percent from the floor.
5. 1955 Iowa Hawkeyes (19-7)
Despite incurring three losses in B1G play, the Hawkeyes finished the regular season atop the conference, earning the league’s automatic ticket to the Big Dance. Once there, No. 12 Iowa beat unranked Penn State and No. 8 Marquette to advance to the Final Four. However, the Hawkeyes could not overcome No. 3 LaSalle in the national semifinals, shooting just 33.3 percent from the floor and missing nine free throws in a 76-73 defeat. Broken in spirit, Iowa then lost the third-place game to No. 15 Colorado by a whopping 21 points.
4. 1954 Indiana Hoosiers (20-4)
Surprisingly, this is our first Hoosiers entry in a decade we probably all associate with Indiana basketball, thanks to the unrelated film Hoosiers. Defending national champion Indiana began the season ranked No. 1 and finished it No. 2, with a 12-2 conference record good enough for the B1G title. However, the Hoosiers lost their first NCAA Tournament game to No. 6 Notre Dame by one point—shooting just 33.9 percent and missing 14 free throws. Indiana saved some face by beating No. 8 LSU in the East Regional consolation game, though.
3. 1953 Indiana Hoosiers (23-3)
This is our only national champ in the list, surprisingly, as the Hoosiers started the season ranked 19th before working their way all the way to the top of the pyramid. They posted a 17-1 record in B1G play, the only loss coming to Minnesota on the road by two points in the penultimate game of the regular season. In order, Indiana beat DePaul, No. 17 Notre Dame, No. 7 LSU, and No. 5 Kansas on its way to the NCAA championship. The victory over the Irish avenged one of the Hoosiers’ losses, a one-point defeat in South Bend.
2. 1953 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (18-4)
We are at a loss here to explain how sabermetrics put this team ahead of the national champs that the Illini lost to twice. It must have something to do with overall margin of victory, as Illinois outscored its opponents by a 14.7-point margin, while Indiana only posted a 11.7-point edge throughout the season. But the Illini ended up No. 1 in the SRS and No. 11 in the polls, so they weren’t a bad team—just an underperforming one that couldn’t get a break … or a ticket to March Madness.
1. 1956 Illinois Fightin’ Illini (18-4)
Again, we have to explain this, as this team did not win the B1G. However, Illinois did finish the season No. 10 in the poll and No. 1 in the SRS. With a 14.4-point MOV, the Illini posted an 11-3 record in B1G play, with all three losses coming on the road in the final four games of the season—two of them by a total of 4 points. Alas, there was no NCAA tourney bid for this squad to redeem itself. The one non-conference loss came by one point on the road to Missouri. In the middle, Illinois won 16 straight games by big margins.