BTP continues our countdown of the best Big Ten programs of the past decade. Prior articles in this series can be found here:
- Rutgers Scarlet Knights
- Penn State Nittany Lions
- Northwestern Wildcats
- Nebraska Cornhuskers
- Minnesota Golden Gophers
- Illinois Fighting Illini
- Iowa Hawkeyes
- Indiana Hoosiers
- Maryland Terrapins
- Michigan Wolverines
- Purdue Boilermakers
- Ohio State Buckeyes
As a reminder, we’ll be looking at eight categories for each program. The first four are the only ones that had any bearing on the ranking:
- Big Ten regular-season winning percentage
- Number of teams finishing ahead in the Big Ten standings
- Big Ten regular season titles
- Big Ten Tournament titles
- Team of the Decade
- Player of the Decade
- Regular Season Win of the Decade
- Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
Well it’s pretty obvious that our No. 1 team was always going to be the one wearing green and white. Which leaves Bucky Badger in the runner-up spot. Before you people from Ohio start complaining—yes, Ohio State won more Big Ten and Big Ten Tournament titles over the past decade. But Wisconsin’s Big Ten winning percentage was meaningfully higher, and the Badgers only had one down year, to Ohio State’s two. (Plus the Badgers made it all the way to the National Title Game, whereas the Buckeyes topped out in the Final Four. I didn’t consider NCAA performance in building these rankings, but most if not all of my readers do.)
Big Ten Winning Percentage
Wisconsin posted a .676 over the past ten seasons, winning over two-thirds of their Big Ten games. Not only was 2018 the only year they finished below .500 in the league, it was also the only year (since 2000!) that the Badgers finished outside the top four. He doesn’t have a natty, but Bo Ryan still gets my vote for Big Ten coaching G.O.A.T.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Wisconsin
Only 26 teams finished in front of the Badgers. Eight of them were from 2018. That leaves five teams who finished below Greg Gard & Co. in 2018—Northwestern, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, and Rutgers. Of those teams, none of them ever finished ahead of the Badgers this decade, and only one, Iowa, managed to tie them (in 2016).
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
Just one, but it’s arguably the most dominant regular season performance in recent memory. The 2015 Badgers went 16-2 in the league, and one of the two losses was when they were without an injured Frank Kaminsky, the consensus National Player of the Year.
Big Ten Tournament Titles
For an encore, the 2015 Badgers won three straight double-digit victories in Chicago and took home the Big Ten Tournament title, too. That was their only conference tournament title in the 2010s.
Team of the Decade
Easy choice. The 2015 Wisconsin team not only won a regular season and Big Ten Tournament title, they came five points from a National Championship, besting an undefeated Kentucky Wildcats team along the way.
Player of the Decade
Big Frank, period, amen. The only argument for Ethan Happ is that his teams needed him more than Frank’s teams needed Frank, but even that’s bullshit because without Big Frank the Badgers lost to one of the worst Rutgers teams in history.
Regular Season Win of the Decade
February 26, 2012.
That 2015 team was so dominant that you could take any of their wins away and they still would have won the Big Ten, and that was the only conference title for the Badgers this decade, so there wasn’t a game that sealed them a title. So rather than look for a win that was the most meaningful, we have to look for the win that was most impressive.
I can’t find this game or even highlights of it on YouTube, but I did find a recap of the game that set this one up. On February 4, 2012, the Ohio State Buckeyes came into the Kohl Center and did what few teams do—went home with the W. KenPom said the Badgers were the second-best team in America. Thad Matta had other ideas.
The rematch was just the reverse. Now it was Ohio State that the computers liked as the second-best team, with Wisconsin coming to town trying to claim a scalp.
I can’t believe this game isn’t on YouTube because it’s one of the best nip-and-tuck contests you’ll ever see. Nobody led by more than three throughout the first half. The game was tied 29-29 at halftime. Starting at the 10:00 mark of the second half, the Buckeyes made a little mini-run to get up by eight, but then Wisconsin scored three straight buckets to cut the lead back to one.
The Buckeyes had the best player on the floor in Jared Sullinger, and this would be the last game he’d ever play in Columbus, so it would have been fitting if the big guy made a big play to be carried off the court as a hero. But, no, it was another Jared—Berggren, for the Badgers—who would be the hero here, scoring the last 5 points for Wisconsin, including a dagger three with 31 seconds left that put his tam ahead for good.
Wisconsin 63, Ohio State 60.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
December 31, 2011.
Yep, we’re staying with the 2012 season. The Badgers would end the year with six losses in conference; three teams finished ahead of them as co-champs with five losses apiece. Each of those six losses was the difference between a full or empty spot in the trophy case, but there’s one that sticks out above the others.
Wisconsin was riding a 12-game home win streak in Big Ten play; they hadn't lost in the Kohl Center at all the season before. And on New Year’s Eve, 2011, there was not reason to believe a crappy Iowa team led by second-year coach Fran McCaffery was going to be the team to break that streak. Iowa hadn’t won a Big Ten road game anywhere but Bloomington (remember, this was when the Hoosiers were in their post-Sampson swoon) since 2008.
Aaron White dropped 18 points, 16 in the second half. Bryce Cartwright had 17. Both players came off the bench for the Hawkeyes, and Fran got his first impressive Big Ten road win.
Iowa 72, Wisconsin 65.
Oh, and then to rub salt in the wound, Iowa beat the Badgers by one later that season in Iowa City.
Yep, Wisconsin would have another Big Ten banner in the rafters if they had managed just one win against a sub-100 Iowa team. That’s gotta sting.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
Ask your wife if she’d rather we went fast, or slow and super efficient.