If you are a fan of one of the 11 college basketball teams that were in the Big Ten when Michigan State won the 2000 National Championship, it's more likely than not that your favorite team has lost in one of the last 15 national championship games.
The sextet of Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wisconsin all fell just shy of winning their first national championship of the 21st century in the final college basketball game of the season. If we celebrated finishing as the 'National Finalist' like we celebrated the champion, the Big Ten would be in the middle of a wildly successful stretch of basketball. Let's examine whether this 0-6 conference cold streak in the title game over the last 16 years reveals deeper problems in the B1G or is just a run of bad luck.
Before we dive in, we should acknowledge that 2002 Maryland is the last Big Ten team to win the national title, but the victory was as a member of the ACC and therefore cannot be counted as a title for Jim Delany's conference.
The first thing we should do is calculate how unlikely it was for none of the last six Big Ten teams to have won in the title game. We can do this using the implied probability of the betting odds of the six championship games.
- 2002 Indiana Hoosiers (7.5 point underdog, 22.2% to win)
- 2005 Illinois Fighting Illini (2 point underdog, 44.6% to win)
- 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes (4 point underdog, 35.9% to win)
- 2009 Michigan State Spartans (7.5 point underdog, 22.2% to win)
- 2013 Michigan Wolverines (4 point underdog, 35.9% to win)
- 2015 Wisconsin Badgers (1 point favorite, 51.7% to win)
Even though the Big Ten team was the underdog in five of the six title games, the implied probability of the Big Ten losing all six of these games comes to a minuscule 6.7 percent.
Assuming that these betting lines were mostly accurate, this suggests that Big Ten was simply unlucky to not produce at least one champion in any of these games. The other thing to take away is that it is impressive that almost half of the conference has made it to the title game in the past 16 years. No other conference has had six different representatives in the national title game in this century (taking this a step further, only the previous iteration of the Big East can even claim to have had six different Final Four representatives in this century!).
It's very easy to blame the title drought on something like Midwestern population decline or the Big Ten's style of basketball, but there's no evidence to back these theories up.
Want to blame the title drought on the Big Ten's perceived slow and physical basketball? Well, the ACC's tempo was slower than the Big Ten's this year and that conference is in the middle of one of the best tournament performances ever by a league. I also shouldn't have to remind you that the B1G hasn't lost the B1G-ACC Challenge since 2008.
Finally, I can't imagine that recruits are paying much attention to this conference-wide drought; they mostly just want to play for a successful basketball program and the Big Ten has a healthy amount of those at the moment.
Judging a conference by national titles is a really bad way to evaluate its strength; it's the textbook definition of the perils involved with small sample sizes. If someone tries to use the title drought as evidence of Big Ten decline, I encourage you to remind that them the conference has sent 12 teams to the Final Four during the drought, which is tied with the ACC for the most teams sent to the event in that timeframe. The Big Ten has no teams going to Houston this year, but a conference that is past its prime or is in decline doesn't 'accidentally' be a consistent presence in the Final Four.