clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Big Ten Tournament: A History

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future, too. - Marcus Aurelius

When the first Big Ten Tournament took place in 1998, it left the Pac-10 and the Ivy League as the only conferences that still gave the automatic bid to the regular season champs. Since then the Pac-10 has caved and now the Ivies stand alone.

With the fourteenth edition of the tournament set to tip off this Thursday in Indianapolis, let's get caught up with a review of the tourney's history.

Tournament Logistics

All eleven teams get into the tournament, and there are four rounds. The top five seeds get a bye into the second round. The first round games take place on Thursday, with the finals ending shortly before the NCAA selection show on Sunday. All tournament games have either taken place at the United Center in Chicago or at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

1998: The Vacated Tournament

Michigan State was the first 1 seed in Big Ten Tournament history.  And they were the first 1 seed to lose in their first game, as they lost to 8 seed Minnesota. This win has been since voided following a big scandal that occurred under Coach Clem Haskins. So MSU still gets credit for the loss (in my book, at least), but the Gophers don't get credit for the win.

The 4 seed Michigan Wolverines won the 1998 tourney by beating Brad Miller and Purdue. This title was later vacated due to a massive scandal involving Coach Steve Fisher and many players. Robert "Tractor" Traylor won the BTT's first Most Valuable Player award, but it was also vacated.

1999: The Almost Miracle Run

Eleven seed Illinois won only 3 out of 16 games during the 1998-99 conference season. In the conference tournament, the Illini won just as many times in only four games. They reached the finals by winning close games with Ohio State and Minnesota and blowing out Indiana.

Their magical road to an unlikely NCAA tournament bid came to a screeching halt when they met up with Michigan State, who had the 1 seed in the tournament and were ranked second in the nation. After beating Northwestern by two in the first round, the Spartans easily won their next two games to win the tournament championship. MVP Mateen Cleaves led MSU to the Final Four a few weeks later.

2000: Stepping Stone to a National Championship

Penn State, the 9 seed, beat 1 seed Ohio State in the second round. You would think that since the 1999 Gopher team had their win over the 1 seed voided, that this would be the first legitimate, non-controversial first game loss for a 1 seed. Well, you would sort of be correct. Ohio State, due to NCAA sanctions, vacated their record from this year. I guess that wouldn't really take away from PSU's win, but it does add a weird footnote to the story.

Michigan State, the eventual National Champions, ended up beating 4 seed Illinois for the second straight year to take home the BTT trophy. Morris Peterson won the MVP award.

2001: Revenge of the Transfer

Six seed Iowa became the second team to play in the opening round and make it to the finals. They beat last place Northwestern and 3 seed Ohio State to get to the semifinals, where they beat Penn State, who had upset 2 seed Michigan State.

They faced 4 seed Indiana, in what is still the only BTT final in which none of the top three seeds played. Former Indiana player Luke Recker had played two seasons under Bob Knight, but had transferred and was now playing for Iowa under Coach Steve Alford, himself a legendary Hoosier.

Iowa won the game, and they remain the lowest-seeded team to ever take home the title. Reggie Evans won the MVP award.

2002: Revenge of the Transfer, Part II

Although they would get beat in the finals, 9 seed Iowa had a great run in the 2002 tourney. Iowa beat 1 seed Wisconsin in the Badgers' first game of the tournament. In an odd turn of events, neither team would have the game voided or vacated. Luke Recker hit the game winning shot against Wisconsin and then did it again the next day against his former team Indiana.

Two seed Ohio State took care of business and stomped the upstart Hawkeyes in the finals, after beating Illinois 94-88 in the highest scoring BTT game ever. Boban Savovic was named Most Valuable Player. This was OSU's first title; they currently lead all teams with 3 BTT championships.

2003: Bill Self's Legacy

Another BTT, another 1 seed gets beat in their first game. This year it was Wisconsin losing to 8 seed Ohio State. The Buckeyes beat 5 seed Michigan State to advance to the finals against 2 seed Illinois, who won a close game over Indiana in the semifinals. Illinois took home the trophy in Bill Self's final season before leaving for Kansas. Brian Cook was the MVP.

2004: Wisconsin-Illinois, Part Un

For the first time in the BTT, the top two seeds advanced to the finals. It was also the first tourney to have a semifinal in which all teams were seeded 5 or better. Bo Ryan's 2 seeded Wisconsin team took care of the top seeded Illini 70-53 in the finals. Devin Harris won the MVP award to go with his Big Ten Player of the Year award.

2005: Wisconsin-Illinois, Part Deux

The 2005 edition featured a rematch of the previous year's finals, with 1 seed Illinois facing 3 seed Wisconsin in the finals. The Badgers benefited from an Iowa upset over 2 seed Michigan State. This time the Illini took home the title after beating the Badgers 54-43 in the lowest scoring finals to date. James Augustine was the Most Valuable Player for Illinois.

2006: The Eyes Have It

This tournament didn't have much in the way of upsets or scoring. Michigan State came in as a 6 seed and took care of Illinois to get to the semifinals, where they were beaten by the second-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes. The Ohio State Buckeyes took care of Penn State and Indiana to make it to the finals. Iowa won the game 67-60, which was the only game in the tournament in which both teams scored at least 60 points. Michigan State's 70 points in the first round against Purdue made them the only team to score in the seventies. Iowa's Jeff Horner was named MVP.

2007: The Oden Year

Ohio State, with their great freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, and David Lightly, rolled over the rest of the Big Ten during the regular season. Their only loss in the conference was in Madison to the Badgers, who had a solid 13-3 conference record. The Buckeyes continued their great season by taking care of business in the tournament, beating Michigan by 10 and Purdue by 11 to earn a place in the finals.

Six seed Illinois beat three seed Indiana in overtime, only to fall to Wisconsin in the next round. Wisconsin was no match for Ohio State, who dominated the final and won by 17. Greg Oden was named MVP in his only BTT appearance. The Buckeyes would go on to lose to Florida in the National Championship.

2008: Revenge of the Almost Miracle Run

After becoming the only 11 seed to make it to the finals in 1999, Illinois became the only 10 seed ever to make it. They beat Penn State, Purdue and Minnesota to face Wisconsin, the Big Ten regular season champs. Minnesota beat Indiana in the 6-3 game on a last second shot with Blake Hoffarber playing the Christian Laettner role.

Wisconsin dispatched of Michigan 51-34 (the lowest scoring game in BTT history) and Michigan State 65-63. For the third time in the finals Wisconsin faced Illinois. The Fighting Illini finally played like the 10 seed, and the Badgers crushed them 61-48. Marcus Landry was voted MVP.

2009: Breakthrough for the Three Seed

The 2009 tournament featured the only finals matchup between the 3 and 5 seed to date. Five seed Ohio State took care of Wisconsin and conference champ Michigan State to reach the finals. Purdue beat Penn State and Illinois to earn a spot in the Sunday game. The Big 3 of the Boilermakers took care of Evan Turner and the Buckeyes 65-61, in one of only two finals games that were decided by 6 points or fewer. Robbie Hummel was the MVP. Purdue become the first 3 seed to win the BTT.

2010: A Buzzer Beater and Two Blowouts

Minnesota became the second 6 seed to reach the finals, where they faced 1 seed Ohio State. The Golden Gophers beat Michigan State in overtime to reach the semifinals where they faced Purdue, who had lost Robbie Hummel to an ACL injury. Purdue had a historically awful first half, only scoring 11 points, as Minnesota cruised into the finals.

Ohio State had some trouble getting to the finals, beating Michigan by only a point in one of the best finishes in tournament history. Michigan's Manny Harris hit a tough jumper to take a two point lead with 2.2 seconds remaining, which was enough time for Evan Turner to drill a three from just inside half court. The Buckeyes then needed two overtimes to take care of Illinois.

Once they got to the finals, they didn't have any trouble. Minnesota, a day after demoralizing Purdue, lost 90-61 in the finals. Even for a game that is a blowout more times than not (the most common outcome in the finals is a 17 point margin), this was a beating. Evan Turner was rewarded for his great play with MVP honors.


If the past has taught us anything, it is that anything can happen in the Big Ten Tournament. A marquee game between the two top seeds can turn into a blowout. An 11 seed can get to the finals. Bubble teams can secure or lose a spot in the tournament. Teams that are locks to get in can gain (or lose) a seed or two in the NCAAs with a particularly strong (or weak) performance. And if the game is within a couple of points, don't quit watching until the final buzzer.

What are your favorite moments from past tournaments?