As we wrap up our look back at the best teams in B1G basketball history on Pac-12 Friday, we would like to point out that the conference has been very good for a long time—yet the best seasons, sabermetrically speaking, have all come within the last 40 years. The B1G has just gotten better over time, and that has little to do with its expansion to 14 teams in recent seasons. However, the concentration of talent in the Power 5 conferences has helped the one-time “Western Conference” assert itself quite well.
On with the show …
Honorable Mention: 2001
Illinois and Michigan State tied for the league title, and Iowa won the conference tournament. Overall, the league sent 7 teams to March Madness, and the Spartans—the defending national champions—made it to the Final Four. Five teams finished the season ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, as Indiana and Wisconsin joined the three aforementioned squads in the poll.
Indiana won the conference title, and Ohio State won the conference tournament. To sweeten the deal, fifth-place Michigan ended up making it all the way to NCAA Championship Game before running out of luck and pluck. Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Minnesota joined those three schools in the Big Dance, as well, as the conference was pretty strong top to bottom. The Hoosiers (4), the Buckeyes (7), the Spartans (9), and the Wolverines (10) all finished the regular season ranked in the Top 10.
Back when the conference only had 10 teams, this is a year when the B1G sent 7 of them to the NCAA Tournament: conference champion Michigan State, Purdue, defending NCAA champ Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Indiana. Five of these teams finished the regular season ranked in the AP Top 20, as well: the Spartans (3), the Boilermakers (10), the Wolverines (13), the Fightin’ Illini (18), and the Golden Gophers (20) repped the league well, although none of the teams made the Final Four.
This is the “oldest” season on the list: Only four schools in the conference reached March Madness, but two of them made it to the Final Four. Defending national champ MSU was one of only two teams in the league to finish under .500 for the season, but third-place Purdue and fourth-place Iowa made up for it with their runs to the national semifinals (neither team reached the title game). League champ Indiana and second-place Ohio State also played in the NCAA tourney. The Hoosiers (7) and the Buckeyes (10) finished the season in the Top 10, as well.
The Spartans dominated the league with a 15-1 conference record to win the title, and then MSU also won the B1G Tournament on its way to the first of three-straight Final Four appearances. But Ohio State also reached the Final Four, although neither team managed to win their respective matchups there. Overall, 7 teams made it to March Madness, and 5 schools ended up in the AP Top 25 at the end of the year: Michigan State (2), Ohio State (14), Wisconsin (18), Indiana (19), and Iowa (21).
Seven is the magic number, it seems, as this is another season where that’s how many teams the B1G placed in the NCAA Tournament. The Buckeyes dominated the league and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the AP poll, although they failed to reach the Final Four after winning both the regular-season and conference-tournament titles. Purdue (13) and Wisconsin (16) joined Ohio State in the final Top 20, while Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State, and Penn State also earned tickets to the Big Dance.
Guess how many teams from the B1G made it to March Madness in 1994? Yep, you guessed it: Seven! Four teams finished the season ranked in the Top 20: conference champion Purdue (3), Michigan (11), Indiana (18), and Minnesota (23). Meanwhile, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin also qualified for the NCAA Tournament. None of the 7 teams reached the Final Four, however.
The last time we had an NCAA Tournament, the B1G left its footprint everywhere as this time 8 teams were tabbed for the Big Dance. Michigan State led the way by winning a share of the conference title, dominating the conference tournament, and reaching the Final Four (again). Purdue won the other half of the regular-season championship, and overall, 4 teams were ranked in the final AP poll of the season: MSU (5), Michigan (8), Purdue (13), and Wisconsin (21).
Even though there was no conference tourney or March Madness last year, the B1G still enjoyed a stellar season. There was a three-way tie for the league crown between Maryland, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, and 6 teams were ranked in the Top 25 when the season was shut down due to pandemic concerns: the Spartans (9), the Terrapins (12), the Badgers (17), the Buckeyes (19), the Fightin’ Illini (21), and the Hawkeyes (25). As noted elsewhere, MSU was a big favorite to win it all, too.
Ohio State won the conference title, but Indiana and Michigan were the squads that managed to reach the Final Four in a season where the league placed 5 teams in the NCAA Tournament with Michigan State and Iowa joining the fray. Four of these teams finished in the AP Top 15 for the season: the Buckeyes (3), the Hoosiers (5), the Spartans (14), and the Wolverines (15). The Hawkeyes also spent six weeks ranked in the poll, as well.
To be honest, the current season rates out to be close to the top of this list, but it’s not done yet, so … the best conference season in B1G history came in the only year on this list when a league team won the national title. Only 5 of the conference’s 10 teams at the time made it to the NCAA Tournament, yet 4 of them were ranked in the Top 15 at the end of the season: Illinois (3), Indiana (8), Michigan (10), and Iowa (14). Minnesota was the fifth tournament team, as the Hoosiers won the conference title, the Fightin’ Illini reached the Final Four, and the Wolverines won their only NCAA title ever in the sport.