Against All Odds: A Big Ten Basketball National Title Drought

By Mike Young on March 31, 2014 at 11:15a



If a few, lucky bounces went the Big Ten's way, three conference schools would be in the Final Four.

All it took was a Nik Stauskas-like step-back three from Aaron Harrison to sink Michigan, along with several other late Harrison triples. Their mitten state brethren were plagued by foul trouble to Keith Appling, exposing one of the few weaknesses on his Michigan State squad – a lack of depth, particularly when it comes to finding someone else to run the offense. 

Those rooting for Big Ten dominance, regardless of what happened to their own team – a kind of martyrdom SEC fans are known for – have Wisconsin to back. Bo Ryan (the world's leading Tupac Shakur impersonator), thanks almost entirely to Arizona's inability to adjust to Frank Kaminsky, finally got the Badgers past the Elite Eight and are the only team from their conference still in the tournament. 

It's the third straight year a Big Ten team has made the Final Four, giving the conference a shot at breaking a 13-season losing streak. Regardless of the tournament drought, the Big Ten is a basketball behemoth, evidenced by nine Final Four appearances since the Spartans' 2000 title.

Still, it's astonishing the B1G has not had a chance to validate great regular season success with a national championship.  A few of these teams will continue to live on in college basketball lore, but, against all odds, not one went on to win this elusive title.

Eleven Warriors ranks the best since 2000, not including this year's Wisconsin squad, as they still have a chance to write their legacy:

1) 2005 Illinois

Result: Lost to North Carolina in the National Finals.

Out of all the teams on this list, the most "worthy" championship squad has to be the 2004-05 Illini.

If not for the legendary Matt Sylvester (for threeeeee.... ooohhh ohhh!), Illinois might have been on a 37-game win streak heading into the national title game against UNC. With as complete a starting lineup as the Big Ten has seen this century, the Illini featured a trio of lethal guards – leading scorer Luther Head, Dee Brown and future NBA all-star Deron Williams. 

Coach Bruce Weber did a masterful job with Bill Self's recruits, navigating some tough tournament games. Their 15-point comeback, in the Elite Eight versus Arizona, is one of the legendary games in NCAA Tournament history. 

Unfortunately, they ran into a loaded Tar Heels team and had major issues matching up weight-wise with Sean May. 

2) 2007 Ohio State

Result: Lost to Florida in the National Finals.

Outside of three John Calipari Kentucky squad, Thad Matta has gotten the most out of a freshman-dominated team. 

The 2006-07 team was, obviously, legendary by Buckeye historical standards and will always carry the unfortunate legacy of Greg Oden "in his prime." Oden averaged 15.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.3 blocks and was really only able to unleash his full repertoire in the re-match against Florida. 

He encountered foul trouble the four prior tournament games, partially resulting in some excruciatingly close games. Oden somehow avoided being called for an intentional foul after shoving Justin Cage. It resulted in only two free throws for Xavier, as Cage only split the pair and set up the unforgettable, game-tying three by Ron Lewis.

Once again, the Buckeyes miraculously avoided elimination against Tennessee. Oden managed to stay on the floor long enough to cement a huge second half comeback with a game-saving block.

As Matta said prior to the 2014 tournament, he "was the lucky one that got the team that won it the year before and everybody came back." If not for facing the most experienced and talented team of the era, this Ohio State team would've ended the Big Ten's streak in the title game. 

3) 2013 Michigan

Result: Lost to Louisville in the National Finals. 

Last year's Michigan squad did not seem like a legitimate title contender until the Sweet Sixteen. 

Conceivably, Consensus National Player of the Year Trey Burke could've taken them deep into the tournament on his own, but it wasn't until Mitch McGary broke out that this team became a championship threat. After all, they were only a No. 4 seed.

McGary elevated his play from "undrafted" to "lottery pick" in a span of about five games, averaging 16 points per game headed into their matchup against Louisville. Combining McGary's versatility, his ability to play off Burke and supplementing them with long-range shooters made Michigan a title-worthy squad. 

In his life, Spike Albrecht will never again achieve the heights that led to 17 first half points, most with Burke in foul trouble. In the end, the Wolverines couldn't contain Luke Hancock, a slightly more believable hero. 

4) 2001 Michigan State

Result: Lost to Arizona in the National Semifinals.

Tournament hero Mateen Cleaves graduated, as did two other seniors from the 2000 championship squad.   

The following year's Spartans were still stacked with NBA talent and experience. Seniors Charlie Bell and Andre Hutson, along with sophomore Jason Richardson and freshman stud Zach Randolph led MSU to a 28-5 regular season. They rolled through the tournament and, at the time, became only the 10th school to reach the Final Four in three consecutive years.  

Arizona, inspired by coach Lute Olsen, used a 21-3 run in the second half to pull away from Michigan State. Poor play from Bell and Richardson – a combined 3-21 from the field – did not do any favors for what was a well-rounded squad. 

5) 2009 Michigan State

Result: Lost to North Carolina in the National Finals.

The selection committee paved a path to glory in their home state.

Michigan State, a two seed, had to go through three one-seeds to cut the nets down in Detroit, and nearly rose to that challenge. They weren't as NBA-talent laden as prior Michigan State squads, but they did embody the stereotypical Tom Izzo squad. 

Kalin Lucas wasn't the most efficient player at the time, nor was he blessed with a dominating physical stature. For a sophomore to lead this squad takes tremendous poise, however. He led the team in points and assists, setting the tempo for a bruising squad, with the 6-foot-10-inch Goran Suton underneath and 6-foot-8-inch Raymar Morgan on the wing.

A slew of turnovers crushed their title hopes, as a senior-laden North Carolina squad handily defeated them in the tournament final. 

6) 2012 Ohio State

Result: Lost to Kansas in the National Semifinals.

Embedding the YouTube video of the Kansas game might trigger some sort of PTSD, but I'm willing to risk it.

Honestly, it was a spectacular and somewhat unexpected run to the Final Four, a year after the Diebler-Lauderdale-Lighty squad lost much too soon. Just like the previous year, Jared Sullinger could not establish post position on a bigger post-player (Josh Harrellson and Jeff Withey), yet the Buckeyes kept themselves in the game.

This season proves how far a dominant big man can take a team, regardless of how limited they might be on the perimeter. Deshaun Thomas hadn't quite fully developed, meaning William Buford was the only trustworthy threat on the wing.

The Buckeyes encountered little resistance on the way, physically dominating Loyola, Gonzaga Cincinnati, and Syracuse, with Amir Williams even providing solid minutes against the Orange. Of course, Ohio State led Kansas by nine at halftime and proceeded to cough up the lead en route to one of OSU basketball's most painful losses.

7) 2002 Indiana

Result: Lost to Maryland in the National Finals.

Just two years after Bob Knight's dismissal, the No. 5 seed Hoosiers went on a deep run in the tournament and made people believe Mike Davis was a worthy successor to Knight.

It was truly an amazing coaching job, looking back at the roster. Sophomore Jared Jeffries and junior Tom Coverdale were the only double-digit scorers on the team, while three-point specialists Dane Fife and Kyle Hornsby might sound vaguely familiar to some of you. 

They beat defending national champion Duke in the Sweet Sixteen by the slimmest of margins, while going on to knock out cinderella Kent State and No. 2 seed Oklahoma. In the end, IU had no response to Maryland's Juan Dixon and an explosive Terrapins squad that couldn't be contained by Indiana's deliberate pace. 

8) 2010 Michigan State

Result: Lost to Butler in the National Semifinals.

The Spartans' core remained intact for a run at another national title, but it proved to be a much more difficult road.

Coming into their Final Four matchup against Butler, Michigan State won their previous four tournament games by a combined 13 points. If not for the second-round injury to Lucas, perhaps this Big Ten team would've had the ammunition to snap the conference's losing streak.

Instead, the Bulldogs and Spartans played an ugly game, resulting in 16 turnovers for MSU and a 30.6 percent shooting performance by Butler. It came down to an intentionally missed Korie Lucious free throw, in an attempt to get the game winning or tying shot. Gordon Hayward grabbed the rebound, however, and ended one spectacular run, while continuing another.  

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