Jason King's take on why the B1G hasn't won a basketball title in over a decade

Submitted by maizeonblueaction on January 23rd, 2013 at 4:38 PM

I saw this article on the home page of ESPN basketball about why, despite its strength, the B1G hasn't won an overall basketball title since MSU in 2000. Link is here.


He makes a couple interesting points, one of which is the lack of NBA talent. Since 2000, the B1G has actually been one of the lowest major conferences in terms of NBA player production, which to me could mean that the conference is good at retaining solid players for multiple years and molding them into a system, but not that getting the glitziest one and doners. He also mentions the perceived slower play in the league, which has been debunked here, and there are exceptions, especially this year.


Interestingly, he says in a way that the strength of the conference can actually be a hindrance because by the time the season ends, everyone is pretty spent, and even the not great teams are threats. Though you could also argue the strength is good preparation for the tournament, obviously. But, considering that everyone is almost guaranteed a couple conference losses, it could also hurt overall seeding for some teams who might otherwise get more favorable matchups. My takeaway from this is that Michigan is in a good position with a faster pace, some NBA locks, and the potential for a 1 or 2 seed which gets us good matchups.



January 23rd, 2013 at 4:58 PM ^

I think there has to be an effect where B1G teams get used to very physical play with fewer foul calls from bumps.  They go through the end of the conference season which will be high pressure for the top conference teams, playing physical ball.  Then do the same again for the B1G tourney.  Then have to readjust to a notably different style of officiating in the NCAA tourney.

I think in this department though, Michigan may be better equipped to handle this in 2013 than previous B1G teams because A) we have more solid big men options and B) our defense is predicated around making the other team take bad shots and not fouling.

That said, I still found King's piece to be very enjoyable.

Marley Nowell

January 23rd, 2013 at 4:55 PM ^

Aside from MSU (and sometimes ohio) most of the Big Ten Teams have been down for the past decade.  The Big Ten has started producing dominant teams again and its just a matter of time before one breaks through for a title.

snarling wolverine

January 23rd, 2013 at 6:34 PM ^

I agree that the league has been down and is now up, but I disagree about it being cyclical.  Conferences don't have to decline.  (The SEC certainly hasn't in football.)  It's just a matter of whether or not they choose to commit themselves to having elite programs.  The B1G is committed to doing so in basketball, whereas it wasn't to this extent a few years ago (and still isn't in football).


January 24th, 2013 at 12:38 AM ^

"The SEC's dominance is really quite recent, starting toward the beginning of the BCS era."

How do we really know that though?  THe BCS era is the first time we have had a chance to see teams across conferences at the very top go head to head.  For all we know the SEC was the best for 50 years.  They just never had a chance to prove it on the field. It's a counter factual, I cannot prove either way.  Back in the day it was all about record to win the national championship.  UM or OSU had to go thru a relatively weak Big 10 pre BCS and win the game against the other and they'd have a pretty good claim at a NC if they ran the table.  USC and UCLA used to have the Pac 10 to themselves (occassionally a Washington would show up).  The Big 12 had Nebraska Oklahoma and Texas.  THen you had the Miami's and FSU's.  Whose to say the SEC was not beating up on each other all those pre BCS years and producing 2 loss teams that had the best chance of winning it all - or even 1 loss teams that would not be a mythical national championship in an era FSU could rock and roll if it got by a game against say Florida Gators.  Or USC playing no one but air, etc. 

Bottom line is we don't know - there was never those sort of matchups - the best SEC team would head to the SUgar or wherever, the best BIg 10 Pac 10 to Rose, the best Big 12 wherever - no head to heads.


January 23rd, 2013 at 5:05 PM ^

This is a somewhat tangential thought, but I've wondered why Wisconsin hasn't done better in the tournament.  It seems like they should be a very difficult team to beat (when they're good) if you haven't seen them before. 


January 23rd, 2013 at 5:29 PM ^

They're the biggest one that I think the way Big Ten basketball is played (SUPER physical, somewhat slow) hurts them when it comes to the tournament.  If they can't play incredibly tight, physical defense, they allow a few more points and they're just not built to score a ton.  They want limited possessions because they don't have as much talent.


January 23rd, 2013 at 5:58 PM ^

But even when they're not a great team, they were good, they give a 1-seed a run for their money in a game most probably wouldn't have given them a chance.  Last year, Wisconisn lost by one to Syracuse as a 4-seed to Cuse's 1-seed (Sweet 16?); they would have gone on to play Ohio St. in a rematch that they surely could have won to go to the Final four.  Anyway, I guess I'm saying that I agree to some extent but the Tourney is such a delicate series of games for any team.  A basket here or a miss there hampers a teams chance at greatness and Wisconsin has run into lesser luck at times keeping them from being a Final 4 or better team (though they did make it back in the early oughts).


January 23rd, 2013 at 6:46 PM ^

I don't think its foul calls or efficiency or anything like that;  I  just think it is overall talent and Bo Ryan is good enough to beat a couple good to great teams (duke last year, etc.) but they just can't compete night in and night otu when you get to the last 16 teams and everyone out talents them... 

in short the system is sound but it isn't made to win NCAA championships...




January 23rd, 2013 at 7:13 PM ^

I agree for the most part.  The talent gap between Wisconsin and -Insert Typical Elite Eight Team- is usually going to be a big one and isn't going to equate to a caliber team most would say is Final Four/CG game worthy. 

But, man, a one point loss to that Syracuse Elite Eight team who then played against another Big Ten team (i.e. an OSU team Wisconsin knew how to play against) for a possible trip to the Final Four.  They ain't sexy but they give themselves a chance (and come tourney time that's all ya need!).  Scansin' had the ball down one with under 20seconds.  Jordan Taylor missed a three to steal the game -why the hell a three was shot I'll never know;  it's what basketball players do now-a-days I guess.

I will say, I'm not understanding why I'm "sticking up for" Wisconsin right now..any ideas?

snarling wolverine

January 23rd, 2013 at 6:47 PM ^

I think Wisconsin just doesn't have the elite talent to win it all.  You can make a run to the third or fourth round on the back of a great system, but to actually win the national title it seems to require truly great talent.  It seems like, no matter what system you run, at some point in a single-elimination tournament it'll break down and you have to rely on individuals to carry the team to victory.  We needed every bit of Glen Rice's superhuman effort to win it all in 1989.  Wisconsin, in general, hasn't had that kind of superstar.

Space Coyote

January 23rd, 2013 at 10:30 PM ^

Wisconsin hasn't had phenomenal talent, so they've done rather well for themselves. At the end of the day though, their style of play is a very low variance style of play. They lower the number of possessions and keep games close. This leads to them occassionally upsetting better teams but sometimes losing to worse teams. At the end of the day, either way, it's very difficult to play that style of play and have tight games and win 6 in a row, let alone 2 or 4.


January 23rd, 2013 at 5:18 PM ^

I don't know that it's that complicated. Of what I'd call the three best teams over that period, each with significant NBA talent, two made the final game but ran into great teams:

1. Illinois (Darren Williams is most obvious, but Luther Head, James Augustine and Dee Brown all played in the NBA) in 2005 vs UNC (Felton, McCants, May, Marvin Williams all 1st round picks)

2. OSU (Oden, Conley, Cook all first round picks, plus Titus) in 2007 vs Florida (Horford, Noah, Brewer all first round picks, ... you could add Mareese Spreights, but he hardly played for that team)

The other, OSU 2011 (Sullinger, Thomas) lost to a hot shooting Kentucky team when they had one of their worst shooting games of the year. 

I'd say those teams were mainly unlucky to, 1. play in the same tournament as teams with equal talent, most years they would have been the most talented team; and 2. play in tournaments where those teams talent advanced to the final. Or 3. having a bad game in a one-off tournament.


January 23rd, 2013 at 5:17 PM ^

The head coaches have improved greatly.  There's no more Mike Davis, Brian Ellerbee, Todd Lickliter, Dan Monson parading down the sidelines.  When you add Beilein, Tubby Smith and Tom Crean to Izzo, Bo Ryan, Thad Matta, the quality of play will improve greatly.  Those are future HoFers.



January 23rd, 2013 at 5:29 PM ^

the NBA players argument is the best, I think. But the only stat the conference falls short on is championships. After all, as he points out the B10 is as good as the top major conferences at making the Final Four. Or look at title game appearances: over the past 10 years only the ACC has made more title games (4), while the B10 is even with the ACC, B12, BE, and SEC at 3 games. Also impressive is that three different teams made it: Illinois, MSU, and OSU. They just didn't win.

That parity is borne out in the Pomeroy rankings. I looked at the conference alignment of the top 8 teams in the end-of-year Pomeroy rankings for each of the past 10 years. All but 6 were from the top 6 conferences:

P10 - 4
SEC - 7
B10 - 14
ACC - 15
B12 - 16
BE  - 17

That suggests that the B10 has been a bit lower than the top in terms of "elite 8" rankings, but not substantially so. If there's a gap, it's at the very, very top. In the three title games involving B10 teams, the conference team was substantially out-talented by the opponent.


January 23rd, 2013 at 5:34 PM ^

This was a pretty interesting read, and thanks for sharing it. I actually didn't realize the number of NBA players representing Big Ten school in the table he presented was that low. 

It seems like the whole conference did go through something of a down period, relatively speaking, in the middle of the last decade, but then Big Ten teams were making tournament runs on a semi-regular basis. As the article notes, the Big Ten has sent a representative to the Final Four eight times since 2000, which is rather respectable really. 

To support the idea presented above that this could have been also the down portion of a cycle, the table below lists where we sat in the list of conferences on overall conference power ratings, overal conference RPI ratings, and SOS ratings. Rather than construct a huge table with exact ratings, where we sat on a list with other conference at least touches the surface of this point. 

You can see that we went from  being the best or near the best conference in all of these in the late 90s to having some marked downturns in all three in the middle of the last decade. This also ties into the idea that the conference seemed to spend several years "heavy in the middle", if you will, with many teams that were serviceable to good but perhaps not great. 

1997-98 3 3 2
1998-99 1 1 1
1999-00 1 1 1
2000-01 2 1 2
2001-02 5 6 3
2002-03 5 4 5
2003-04 5 10 5
2004-05 3 6 2
2005-06 3 2 4
2006-07 4 4 4
2007-08 4 2 5
2008-09 1 2 1
2009-10 4 5 4
2010-11 2 2 1
2011-12 1 1 1
2012-13 1 1 1



January 23rd, 2013 at 7:10 PM ^

There's obviously tons of reasons one can throw out there as to why the Big Ten hasn't won a NC.  I went back to 2000 and looked at how many Final Four teams each conference has had and it breaks down like this:

Big Ten - 10

Big East - 10

ACC - 10

Big 12 - 7

SEC - 6

Pac-10 - 4

Other - 5

So while the Big Ten hasn't won a title since 2000, the conference as a whole seems to have performed pretty well.


January 24th, 2013 at 12:28 AM ^

Is it that complicted to write a story about - its mostly skill with a little luck.  When Michigan (or insert program!) had NBA talent like in 89 or the Fab Five they got to championship games (or had deep runs) - sometimes won, sometimes lost.  When they didnt they didn't.  Same for most programs - Kansas, Duke, Kentucky, Arizona, even MSU.  Most had a few NBA players on the roster, and you need some luck to avoid the upsets.  

Do we need 30 woe is me responses to an obvious issue?


January 24th, 2013 at 12:46 AM ^

Since 2000 -- the year the league last won an NCAA title -- the Big Ten has produced 28 first-round NBA draft picks. That number ranks last among Big Six conferences such as the ACC, which has had nearly twice as many players (51) selected in the first round (see chart).

That could have been the entire story - the rest is filler.