Welcome back to 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 twelfth-best team of the 2010s was the Northwestern Wildcats.
Big Ten Winning Percentage
Northwestern finished the past ten seasons with a Big Ten winning percentage of .363. Now that may not sound very good, but it was the best decade for basketball in Evanston since the 1960s. The Cats had one season with an above-.500 record in the past ten years—the 2017 team, which we’ll be hearing a lot more about—and that was their first such season since 1968. What I’m trying to say is the 2010s were historically good for Northwestern, because Northwestern has been historically bad.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Northwestern
Eighty-one teams finished ahead of Northwestern in the league standings, including every single school at least once. (Yep, Rutgers finished ahead of the Cats last year.) That said, Northwestern finished ahead of nine other schools at least once—the aforementioned Scarlet Knights, plus Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State, and Purdue. In 2017 (there that season is again), they tied with Michigan and Michigan State, meaning that Wisconsin and Maryland are the only schools who strictly dominated Northwestern in the standings throughout the 2010s.
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
Big Ten Tournament Titles
Team of the Decade
No surprise, it’s Bryant McIntosh and the 2017 Northwestern Wildcats. That team was the first Cats team with a winning conference record in decades, the first Cats team to make the NCAA Tournament ever, the first Cats team to win the NCAA Tournament, the highest KenPom finish ever at No. 38, and they set the school record for wins by four games with 24 total. Half of the 2017 team’s ten conference wins came on the road, including victories in Columbus and Madison, places where few Northwestern teams have ever gone and won.
Player of the Decade
The best player on the 2017 team was Bryant McIntosh, but the best player over the course of the entire decade is the only Wildcat to be named as a First Team All-Big Ten selection—John Shurna. The coaches and media determined that Shurna’s performance was good enough to place him alongside Draymond Green, Jared Sullinger, and Robbie Hummel. That’s pretty good company. Most of the his senior year, the 6’9” Shurna was the tallest Wildcat on the floor, but despite being the ostensible 5-man, he managed to shoot 44% from three.
Regular Season Win of the Decade
March 1, 2017.
Northwestern came into this game needing one more win to feel confident that they’d make their first NCAA Tournament in school history. The past two games had both been road losses, one to in-state rival Illinois, and a one-point heartbreaker in Bloomington. With the ranked Michigan Wolverines coming to Evanston, the Wildcats were on the search for that one final resume-boosting win. It was close the whole way and tied with 1.7 seconds to go. Now I’ve seen a lot of buzzer-beaters in my time, but there aren’t many that exorcised a century of demons, and there isn’t a single one that had a better full-court pass than the one Nate Taphorn threw to Derek Pardon.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
January 15, 2011. (I couldn’t find a replay or highlights on YouTube.)
If the Michigan game above was the game that put the Cats in the tournament for the first time, this 2011 contest in East Lansing was the one that kept them from getting there six seasons earlier. The 2011 John-Shurna-led Wildcats were the best team of the Bill Carmody era, and they finished with one loss too many on the wrong side of the bubble. That team lost in overtime to the best team in the country (Ohio State) in the Big Ten Tournament, but since I had to pick a regular season loss, I’ll go with the other crushing overtime loss the Cats suffered that year. This one was extra bitter, because Northwestern had played the Spartans in Evanston less than two weeks earlier, and the result had been a three-point loss. If either of those games had gone the other way, Bill Carmody might still be prowling the sidelines in Evanston.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
You can do more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word, but you can’t do much at all with 2-star talent.