The B1G exceeded lofty expectations this season.
Time and again throughout the year, the conference proved to be the Pacific Ocean of college basketball. It culminated in one of the more entertaining B1G Tournaments in recent memory, with nine of the 13 games being decided by single digits. Over 122,000 poured into the United Center in Chicago during that five-day stretch, resulting in the second-most attended tournament in the two-decade history of the event.
And then, on Selection Sunday, eight B1G teams saw their name pop up on the screen as participants in the NCAA Tournament — most of any conference this season and a new record for the league. Regardless of what happens during March Madness, the B1G has enjoyed plenty of success on the hardwood this year.
For the B1G to be revered as the top conference in college basketball among the national pundits and millions of fans, though, it’s probably going to have to accomplish something it hasn’t done in nearly two decades: win a national championship.
Crazy, isn’t it? Often regarded as one of the best conferences in the sport, the B1G has gone almost 20 years without holding a championship trophy. The last title run came in the 1999-2000 season, when Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team — loaded with Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Andre Hutson and Charlie Bell — finished as B1G regular season and tournament and national champions.
What’s even crazier is just how many chances the league has had to win a title in the last 18 seasons.
Since the Spartans claimed the 2000 national title, a B1G team has reached the Final Four 13 times in 11 different years, with two conference teams reaching the Final Four in 2005 and 2015. A B1G team has played in the championship game seven times.
Basically, the B1G is landing in the Final Four two out of every three years and playing in the championship game in half of those appearances. Somehow, it has failed to add any hardware to the trophy case.
|2001||Michigan St.||Final Four|
|2005||Michigan St.||Final Four|
|2010||Michigan St.||Final Four|
|2012||Ohio St.||Final Four|
|2015||Michigan St.||Final Four|
There are some really good teams in that mix. Illinois’ 2005 team finished the year 37-2, led by Dee Brown, Luther Head, James Augustine and Deron Williams. Ohio Sate was loaded with Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Jamar Butler during its 2007 run. Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker were stars at Wisconsin during their 2015 push.
Yet, no titles for the B1G. Some better opponents and some bad luck have prevented the league from claiming a national title in nearly two decades.
Perhaps this is the year, then, that the B1G finally ends that drought. A year in which a record-setting number of teams reached the tournament and the three teams at the top — Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan — were all ranked in the top 13 at the end of the season. Wisconsin and Maryland are capable of making deep runs, too.
Michigan probably has the most favorable draw, earning a No. 2 seed in the West Region, where Gonzaga is the top seed. Purdue and Wisconsin are in favorable situations, too, with the South Region’s lone dominant power being Virginia. And we all remember how the Cavaliers’ season ended a year ago.
Michigan State and Maryland are in the East Region with No. 1 overall seed Duke. That bracket is loaded too, with LSU, Virginia Tech and Mississippi State all in the region. The Spartans and Terrapins have arguably the toughest road to the Final Four.
Then again, the Spartans have been counted out numerous times this season, only to claim a B1G regular season and tournament title.
Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State could surprise some teams by winning a game or two in the tournament, as well. While that would certainly help the conference’s brand as the deepest in the country, snapping the championship drought probably isn’t in the cards for those three programs.
Over the last 19 years, the B1G has produced some great teams. It’s hard to believe that a league that’s regularly considered one of the best and deepest in the sport has gone so long without hoisting a championship trophy with confetti flying through the air and “One Shining Moment” playing in the background. For two decades now, the conference hasn’t been given quite the respect it deserves because it hasn’t produced a national champion.
It’s already been a record-breaking year for the B1G. Maybe it’ll be a drought-ending one, too.