Before we get to the fun stuff (i.e. the stuff that everyone will disagree with), here are some facts about the B1G's Final Four history: the conference has sent a team to the Final Four 38 times (sanctions applied). It has the second most national titles with ten (and one less than UCLA). It sent a team (Ohio State) to the inaugural Final Four. It has had multiple teams participate in the Final Four eight times (including this year). Ohio State has been to 11 Final Fours, Michigan State has nine, Indiana has eight, Michigan has seven, Illinois has five, Wisconsin has four, Iowa has three, Minnesota has one (sanctions not applied). Before I get to the categories, let me say that the following is least a little clouded by fandom and youth and they're, let's say, unscientific.
This one is a no-brainer: the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. If you want to bundle it with the season before, the Hoosiers went 63-1 over a two year span in a decent (or at least top heavy) conference. They even beat the Soviet National team by 16. That's basketball diplomacy I can get behind; eat your heart out, Dennis Rodman. Bob Knight won B1G coach of the year and Scott May won National Player of the Year honors while averaging a staggering (at least for a Knight-led team) 23.5 points a game. They topped 100 points in four games and scored below 70 in only four. They had four players selected in the top eleven picks of the 1976 and 1977 NBA drafts (and two number one overall picks, Scott May and Kent Benson). The only arguments that I can see against these guys are that none of the players on the roster went on to have stellar NBA careers and that there was less parity back in the day, but 32-0 is 32-0 and this was an absolute steamroller of a team.
This was a tough one, so I'm going to talk about two: the 1987 matchup between Indiana and Syracuse and the 1989 matchup between Seton Hall and Michigan. Indiana won a stacked B1G (six teams with 20 or more wins) and entered the tournament as a one seed. They faced a Syracuse squad that finished tenth in the country and came into the championship as a two seed. This game was close all the way through: Indiana led by one at the half and both teams put up 40 in the second frame. Indiana had 38 in the second half until this happened:
As far as final plays f the championship game goes, that one is pretty absurd, but that's why we love March. As you might have been able to guess, considering the fact that these teams were coached by Jim Boeheim and Bob Knight, this game was an absolute slug fest, right down to the final seconds.
The 1989 Michigan-Seton Hall game came down to this, in overtime:
That's a pretty great way to end a season. Michigan led by five at half and the pirates won the second half by five. It wasn't a terribly high scoring game, but OT was frenetic. Oh, and John Morton almost made a last second heave immediately following those free throws. Morton was out his mind, scoring 35 points, just slightly outpacing Glen Rice's 31, who was a basketball chimera all tournament. It's not very often you get an honest-to-goodness back and forth between two players in a Final Four or National Championship game.
The nod goes to Magic Johnson in the 1979 Final Four. Magic was magic all tournament, but in the Final Four (as a sign of things to come) he turned his game up to 11. Why not just make ten louder? Because you don't torch Larry Bird and an undefeated Indiana State team to the tune of 24 points, 7 boards, and 5 assists on ten. Oh yeah, he also had a triple double (29/10/10) while leading the Spartans to 101 points in the first Final Four game against Penn. That's 53 points, seventeen rebounds, and fifteen assists in the two biggest games of his basketball life leading up to that point. The only reason that this category wasn't as unquestionable as the best team category was because Glen Rice's performance in 1989 was otherworldly as well: Rice went for 28 points in a narrow victory over familiar B1G foe Illinois, then went for 31 and 11 in the Championship game against Seton Hall. Michigan's offensive game plan had essentially become "give the ball to Rice and get out of the way." Ultimately though, if Rice was paving his warpath with a tank, Johnson was paving his with the Death Star.
Most Unexpected Team
We all love the underdog in March, but power conferences like the B1G don't usually produce them. A middle of the road B1G team is way less volatile than a 35-3 mid major. Mediocre underdogs don't usually make runs, weird ones do. That's why the Wisconsin Badgers' 2000 run is pretty remarkable. They ended up as an eight seed, though that seems like it was generous. The Badgers were 8-8 in the B1G, finished 22-14 and unranked. Seriously, look at this roster. Do you remember any of these dudes? They only had one player average double digit points (Mark Vershaw), and he averaged 11.8! There are a whole lotta layups in this highlight video:
That said, they distributed the ball, hit open shots, and played good team defense. They didn't give up more than 60 points all tournament, but unfortunately they gave up 53 to Michigan State and only scored 41. Ouch. They were the higher seed in every game they played during the tournament after the round of 64: they beat 1 seed Arizona, 4 seed LSU, and 6 seed Purdue.
Honorable mention: the 1992 Michigan Wolverines. We look back now at the Fab Five and tend to forget that they went 24-8 (11-7 in the B1G) and earned only a six seed during the first year they were together. They started five freshmen in the tournament, which was basically unheard of at the time. Then they became the first team ever to start five freshmen in the Final Four. After their up-and-down season, people were skeptical of this Wolverine squad heading into the tournament. Outside of their matchup against East Tennessee State, all of their wins in the tourney came by single digits (including an overtime win against Ohio State). The Wolverines earned a rematch against Duke for the National Championship, but the Blue Devils proved to be too much and blew the Wolverines out by 20.
Best Team to Not Win It All
This is a toss up between the 2005 Fighting Illini and the 2007 Buckeyes. The '07 Ohio State squad probably had a shade more talent with a healthy Greg Oden and Mike Conley holding down the fort, along with Daequan Cook. They did stuff like this:
They were really, really good. They went 35-4 and barnstormed the B1G, finishing with a 15-1 conference record. Unfortunately, the Florida squad they encountered was a terrifying buzzsaw. They had Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Mareese Speights and Joakim Noah. Nothing you can really do about that.
The 2005 Illini team lost to the North Carolina Tarheels in the National Championship game and they probably shouldn't have. That Illinois team had Luther Head, Dee Brown and Deron Williams. They were a three guard terror all season, a basketball Cerberus, if you will. They went 37-1 leading up to the National Championship game. The Tarheels trotted out a svelte Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams. The Heels were a good team, but it looked like Illinois was going to be one for the ages for most of the season.
Best Birth of a Folk Hero
Spike Albrecht. He got his nickname because he refused to take his baseball cleats off when he was a kid. He was a one star recruit whose only offer from a power conference was from Michigan. On the biggest stage, alongside the Naismith Award winner and against the best team in the country, he was the best player on the floor for twenty minutes.
And then, this.
Most Devastating Moment
Man. Man, oh man.
This weekend's games could change a lot of this, of course: the Spartans could be a 7 seed in the final and Wisconsin could knock off what looks like one of the best college basketball teams ever. At the very least it'll be an enjoyable ride.