We continue our countdown of the best Big Ten programs of the past decade. Prior articles in this series can be found here:
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
The tenth best program in the Big Ten in the 2010s was the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Minnesota has been one of those programs that’s been good enough to beat good teams that decide not to show up on any given night, but they’ve never really reached anything more than the middle of the mountain. Still, four NCAA Tournament appearances over the past decade is more than Rutgers, Penn State, Northwestern, and Nebraska put together. The Gophers are at least in the lower middle class of the league.
Big Ten Winning Percentage
Minnesota went through the 2010s with a .379 record in Big Ten play. That’s actually worse than Nebraska, but winning percentage in conference games isn’t everything, and had Nebraska been in the Big Ten in 2010 and 2011 it’s likely they would have finished with a worse record than the Gophers.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Minnesota
Seventy-three teams finished ahead of Minnesota over the past ten seasons. Wisconsin was the only team that finished ahead of Minnesota all ten years; the Minnesota-Wisconsin series is the only rivalry where that holds true. Maryland also finished ahead of Minnesota all six years that the Terps were in the conference. The Gophers best finish was fourth in 2017, when they finished in back of Wisconsin, Purdue, and Maryland. (The Gophers finished better than Purdue in 2013 and 2014.)
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
None, nor did they ever challenge for one. The year they finished fourth, they started the conference season 3-6 before rattling off eight wins in a row.
Big Ten Tournament Titles
None. Minnesota made the semifinals twice, losing to Michigan both times.
Team of the Decade
KenPom says the 2013 Golden Gophers were a top-20 team, but that team finished 8-10 in the league, and Tubby Smith ended up getting fired after a second-round NCAA Tournament loss. No season that ends with a coach getting fired for performance can be the best team of the decade. So that leaves the 2017 team. That iteration of the Gophers didn’t win an NCAA Tournament game, but they had eleven conference wins, the most for any Gopher team since the 1990 Elite Eight squad. The star player was junior Nate Mason, backed by underclassmen Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey, and Dupree McBrayer. All would return the next year, but Gopher fans don’t want me to talk about 2018.
Player of the Decade
For most readers of this blog, Jordan Murphy was the most prolific Big Ten rebounder of your lifetime. Better than Joe Barry Carroll. Better than Draymond Green. Better than Ethan Happ or Alan Henderson. Only Jerry Lucas pulled down more. And I don’t think Big Ten fans ever gave Murphy his due. Perhaps that’s because he was never the single best rebounder in the conference; his career stats are so good because he was a rebound machine as a freshman. Even if you ignore the rebounds, Murphy was the alpha dog on a team that made it to the Round of 32, which is as deep as any Minnesota team since 1997 (unofficially; 1990 when factoring in vacated games.)
Regular Season Win of the Decade
February 26, 2013.
The 2013 Hoosiers were the best Indiana team since at least 1992. Coming into their matchup at the Barn, Tom Crean’s squad, led by Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo, and Christian Watford were fresh off a win in East Lansing and ranked No. 1 in the country. Minnesota hadn’t beaten the top-ranked team in the country since 1989. But on this Tuesday night Trevor Mbakwe was dominant on the low block with 21 and 12 while fouling out Cody Zeller. The Gophers got the dub and would go on to make the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
February 8, 2017.
This game was tied at 77 at the end of regulation.
Minnesota won 101 to 89.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
March 5, 2016.
I’ll be honest, as I was doing my research for this series, I knew that picking out the most crushing loss for each program would be the most difficult item to determine. I knew which losses hurt me as a Purdue fan the most, but how was I to know which loss Illinois or Nebraska fans remembered above all others. Crushing losses are subjective. I can review scores and records, but I can’t know the emotional state of the fanbase at the time each game was played.
This game, though. Absolute no-brainer. Sorry, Minnesota fans, but as a neutral fan this is far and away the most memorable embarrassing Big Ten loss of all time. Yes, worse than Illinois losing to Penn State at home 38-33. (Illinois fans: “That was like eleven years ago, a—hole!”)
(Unfortunately, that 38-33 game was from last decade, or I’d get to write about it when we get to the Illinois article. Alas.)
Anyway, on March 5, 2016, Minnesota went to Piscataway with a 2-15 conference record. And let me tell you, it was March, it was the last game of the regular season, and this game was THE game to watch that weekend. Indiana had already locked up a Big Ten title. But at the other end of the conference, there was Minnesota. And there was Rutgers. Winless Rutgers.
Yep, this was a game between the 2-15 Gophers and the 0-17 Scarlet Knights. The combined 32 conference losses between participants is a regular-season record that still stands today. This game was a low point for not one, but two Big Ten programs. Would Rutgers be the first team to go 0-fer the Big Ten since Northwestern in 2000?
They would not. Mike Williams—yes, seriously, Mike Williams—led the way for Rutgers with 29 points on 6-of-8 shooting from behind the arc. And the Scarlet Knights came out scorching. The score was 29-4 at one point.
No one had seen Gophers get blown out like that since Caddyshack.
Final score: Rutgers 75, Minnesota 52.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
Well, that’s the news from Williams Arena, where all the cheerleaders are strong, all the support beams are good-looking, and most of the basketball is below average.