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
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 fifth-best program of the past decade was the Michigan Wolverines. Michigan is one of only three schools who had one coach throughout the entire past decade. Unfortunately for Wolverines fans, that coach is now the head coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers. The loss of John Beilein had no bearing on the Maize and Blue coming it at No. 5, but if I’m being honest, looking ahead to the 2020 Power Rankings, I’ll be shocked if Michigan is still this high.
Big Ten Winning Percentage
Michigan finished the decade with a .615 conference winning percentage. That’s actually worse than Maryland, but then again, the percentage doesn’t include Big Ten tournament games, just the regular season. And it’s safe to say that Maryland hasn’t had the postseason success that Michigan has.
Teams Finishing Ahead of Michigan
Thirty-six teams finished ahead of Michigan in the 2010s. Michigan won the Big Ten outright in 2014, meaning they finished ahead of every other program at some point. There were four schools that Michigan never finished below—Rutgers and Penn State finished behind the Wolverines every single year; Northwestern tied them in 2017; Nebraska tied them in 2018.
Big Ten Regular Season Titles
2012 (shared with Michigan State and Ohio State); 2014 (outright)
Big Ten Tournament Titles
2017 (the plane crash year), 2018. And were it not for their rivals in East Lansing, they’d have won in 2014 and 2019, too.
Team of the Decade
It’s gotta be one of the two Michigan teams that made it all the way to the National Championship Game. The question is, does the 2013 team or the 2018 team have the edge? The 2013 Wolverines had National Player of the Year Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, and Jordan Morgan, plus a trio of freshman in Mitch McGary, Nik Stauskas, and only-broke-double-digits-once-all-season-but-it-was-in-the-goddamned-national-championship-game Spike Albrecht. The 2018 Wolverines had Mo Wagner, Charles Matthews, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Zavier Simpson, and Duncan Robinson.
I’m going to give this one to the 2018 squad for a couple of reasons. First: hardware. Neither team took home the Big Ten title, but the 2018 team did win the Big Ten Tournament in Madison Square Garden. Second: balance. If you could somehow get the 2013 and 2018 teams to play each other, I don’t have a hard time believing both of them would be able to score, but the 2018 team would play so much better defense. Going back to at least West Virginia, John Beilein has always been able to run beautiful offensive sets. It was only in the past couple of seasons he also got his teams to the point where they were elite defensively.
Player of the Decade
Spike Albrecht was a better meme and Mo and Iggy were better villains, but Trey Burke was the 2013 Naismith, AP, NABC, Wooden, Robertson, and Sports Illustrated player of the year.
We’re (thankfully!) running out of offseason, but if we had time to do a series on the ten best players in the Big Ten from the 2010s, you’d be hard-pressed to argue anyone but Mr. Burke should be No. 1 on that list.
Regular Season Win of the Decade
February 7, 2017.
This wasn’t a win that clinched a Big Ten title. It wasn’t a win that featured last-second heroics. But I’m guessing that Michigan fans enjoyed this 29-point drubbing of Tom Izzo’s Spartans as much as they enjoyed any regular season game over the past ten years.
Michigan 86, Michigan State 57.
Regular Season Crushing Loss of the Decade
But with the good must come the bad. There’s a reason Michigan-Michigan State has been the best rivalry in the Big Ten over the past several seasons. They share a state, they have disdain for each other not just because of sports but because of the type of individual that enrolls in each school. And most importantly—eat your heart out, IU-Purdue rivalry—they’ve both been really good at the same time.
Last season, Michigan played Michigan State three times. Michigan State beat Michigan three times. Three. It’s hard to beat a good team three times in one season. (Unless you have Tony Carr! That’s right Ohio State fans, you came to this section to bask in some Michigan schadenfreude, so as karmic retribution you get to be reminded of this.)
Of the three losses, one was in the Big Ten Tournament and therefore is ineligible for this award. I’m not sure that game necessarily would have been the winner in this category, but it certainly would have been in the conversation.
But we’re left with the two regular season matchups. Which of these is worse?
- Losing to your arch-rival at home, mainly because you went on a 6-minute scoring drought in the second half after leading for basically the whole game, and the Spartans didn’t even have Nick Ward on the court.
- Losing on the road to your arch-rival, after blowing a 12-point lead, in a last-week-of-the-season game that everyone and his mother had circled since the schedule had been announced, where the winner got a share of the Big Ten title.
It’s close, but I think the second one is just a little bit worse.
March 9, 2019.
Michigan State 75, Michigan 63. Tom Izzo wins the Big Ten again.
Fake Internet Quote That Puts It All In Perspective
What, not a single mention of the great Andrew Dakich anywhere in the article?