On Pac-12 Friday, it is time to check out the B1G basketball scene of the 2000s—and the good news is that we have less scandal than we did in the 1990s for the conference in the heart of the Midwest. There was only one national champion in this bunch, as well, but there were a lot of Final Four squads from the B1G during the first decade of the new millenium. The league meant business, even if that didn’t mean an NCAA title every time out …
Here they are, ranked via sabermetric strength!
Honorable Mention: 2009 Michigan State Spartans (31-7)
This was the fourth Final Four team of the decade for Tom Izzo, and while it wasn’t a truly great team, it used the motivation of the Final Four in Detroit all season long—and the Spartans made it all the way to the title game, before getting blown out by cheatin’ North Carolina. MSU won the B1G with a 15-3 conference mark, and after entering the NCAA Tournament with a No. 8 poll ranking, the Spartans beat No. 14 Kansas in the Sweet 16, No. 1 Louisville in the Elite 8, and No. 5 Connecticut in the national semis to each the finals. The No. 2 Tar Heels proved to be too much for MSU, however, at that point.
10. 2002 Indiana Hoosiers (25-12)
Another B1G team that reached the national title game, these Hoosiers actually finished third in the B1G with an 11-5 league record. Unranked as the NCAA Tournament began, Indiana got on a roll, however, to finish No. 9 in the SRS overall. The Hoosiers knocked off AP No. 1 Duke in the Sweet 16 and No. 3 Oklahoma in the Final Four. Facing No. 4 Maryland in the national championship, though, Indiana ran out of gas, shooting just 34.5 percent from the floor and only getting to the free-throw line seven times the whole game.
9. 2007 Wisconsin Badgers (30-6)
Even though the Badgers made the Final Four in 2000, this was a higher-ranked team in our sabermetric evaluation. Wisconsin finished second in the B1G with a 13-3 conference mark, and the Badgers ended up ranked No. 6 in the AP poll and No. 9 in the SRS. However, in the second round of the NCAAs, Wisconsin drew No. 19 UNLV and shot just 23.8 percent from three-point range, all but sinking its hopes to advance to the Sweet 16. The Badgers ended up losing their last three games against ranked teams after a 21-1 start to the season.
8. 2008 Wisconsin Badgers (31-5)
This team built on the success of the squad just above to reach the Sweet 16, but that was still a disappointment for this bunch of Badgers. After going 16-2 in conference to win the league title, Wisconsin finished the regular season ranked No. 6 in the AP poll and won the B1G tournament as well. Alas, the Badgers went down hard in the regional semifinals to No. 23 Davidson, losing by 17 points to see their amazing season fall short of expectations once again. Some dude named Steph Curry scored 33 points for Davidson, by the way, which makes this loss hurt a little less as time has gone by, perhaps.
7. 2003 Illinois Fighting Illini (25-7)
This team finished No. 11 in the polls and No. 7 in the SRS, but the Illini failed to win the B1G or even reach the Sweet 16. Talk about a weird season! After finishing second in conference with an 11-5 league mark, Illinois did win the B1G Tournament, however. But that momentum was wasted in the second round of March Madness as the Illini lost to No. 22 Notre Dame in Indianapolis by 8 points. Playing only five ranked teams all season, Illinois lost its last three games against ranked squads, so one might say the relative softness of the schedule (57th-ranked SOS) came back to bite these guys in the end.
6. 2005 Michigan State Spartans (26-7)
Finishing 15th in the AP poll at the end of the regular season after a first-round loss in the B1G tourney, no one expected much from Michigan State, the second-place B1G team (13-3 conference mark), in the NCAA Tournament. However, Izzo worked his magic again, which is why he is “Mr. March” in the eyes of many experts. Michigan State beat No. 3 Duke in the Sweet 16 and No. 7 Kentucky in an Elite 8, double-overtime thriller to reach the Final Four. However, a loss to cheatin’ North Carolina in the national semifinals prevented an all-B1G final matchup (see below).
5. 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes (35-4)
Even though the B1G won only one national title in the 2000s, four other conference squads made the championship game—including this one. Winning the league with a 15-1 mark in conference play, the Buckeyes finished the regular season ranked No. 1 after beating then-No. 3 Wisconsin (see above) in the B1G tourney final. Ohio State proceeded to beat No. 25 Tennessee in the Sweet 16, No. 5 Memphis in the Elite 8, and No. 8 Georgetown in the Final Four to reach the championship game against No. 3 Florida, the defending national champs. Sadly, the Gators emerged triumphant to keep the B1G champs title-free once again.
4. 2001 Illinois Fighting Illini (27-8)
Two seasons after going 3-13 in B1G play, the Illini turned the tables, going 13-3 to tie Michigan State for the B1G regular-season championship. Illinois finished No. 4 in the AP poll and No. 6 in the SRS, while advancing to the Elite 8 with a 16-point victory over No. 12 Kansas in the Sweet 16. However, the Illini could not overcome No. 5 Arizona in the regional finals, losing by six points and failing to join MSU in the 2001 Final Four (see below).
3. 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini (37-2)
This squad started the season 29-0 before losing its B1G regular-season finale on the road to Ohio State by one point. Illinois was ranked No. 1 in the country from December 6 through the end of the year, even after the loss to the Buckeyes. The Illini then rolled through the B1G tourney, winning three games by an average of 12 points. In March Madness, Illinois reached the Elite 8 with ease before beating No. 9 Arizona in OT. In the Final Four, the Illini topped No. 4 Louisville by 15 points to reach the national title game against cheatin’ UNC. Unfortunately, the No. 2 Tar Heels won the championship, 75-70.
2. 2000 Michigan State Spartans (32-7)
This is the only national champ on our list this week, and MSU earned it by winning every one of its NCAA Tournament games by double digits—the first team in the 64-team era to do so. The Spartans were never ranked No. 1 during the year, finishing No. 2 in the AP poll after winning the B1G regular-season (13-3 league record) and conference titles. After losing to No. 16 Indiana on the road in overtime on February 26, Michigan State won its final 11 games to win the national title. In March Madness, the Spartans beat No. 16 Syracuse in the Sweet 16, No. 6 Iowa State in the Elite 8, and No. 13 Florida in the championship matchup.
1. 2001 Michigan State Spartans (28-5)
Surprisingly, this fourth MSU entry on the list today is the best one, sabermetrically, as these defending national champs won a fourth straight conference title with a 13-3 mark (tying Illinois—see above) in league play. The Spartans briefly were ranked No. 1 over the holidays before finishing No. 3 in the AP poll. In March Madness, Michigan State beat four unranked teams to reach the Final Four, but there against No. 5 Arizona, the Spartans imploded in the second half with a bunch of turnovers and missed 3s to lose by 19 points against the Wildcats. It was a downer to an otherwise stellar season, with a third-straight Final Four appearance.