Dienhart: 10 most dominant Big Ten hoops teams in last 25 years
With the Golden State Warriors in the midst of a potential record-breaking season as they take aim on the Chicago Bulls’ 72-10 mark of 1995-96, I thought it would be fun to look back on what I think have been the most dominating Big Ten teams since 1990-91 … the last 25 years.
There have been so many great teams over the last quarter century that it was difficult to limit the list to 10. I managed to do it, though. For those wondering, no Maryland’s 2002 national championship team was not eligible.
Here’s my list:
1990-91 Ohio State. Randy Ayers had it rolling in Columbus. And this was a special team that went 27-4 overall and won the Big Ten with a 15-3 mark. The Buckeyes were a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney but got beat by St. John’s in the Sweet 16 despite having talent like Jim Jackson, Perry Carter, Jamaal Brown and Treg Lee. OSU hadn’t won the Big Ten since 1970-71. The Buckeyes and Jackson won the Big Ten the next season with another 15-3 mark and again were a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance … and again failed to reach the Final Four, losing in the regional finals to Michigan and a group of freshmen called the “Fab Five.”
1992-93 Indiana. The Hoosiers went 17-1 in the Big Ten and 31-4 overall. The only league loss was an 81-77 defeat at Ohio State. But the No. 1-seeded Hoosiers got beat in the Elite Eight by Kansas despite being fueled by the likes of national player of the year Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Damon Bailey and Alan Henderson. This was Bobby Knight’s last great team, as it all went downhill from here for the General.
1992-93 Michigan. The second edition of the “Fab Five” was electric and special for Steve Fisher. True, this team didn’t win the Big Ten, finishing second to Indiana with a 15-3 mark. But Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose and Co., went 31-5 and reached the national title game for a second season in a row, falling to North Carolina in the infamous Webber “timeout” game. Webber turned pro, breaking up the fabled quintet that introduced America to XXXL shorts and showing you can win big with freshmen. This is the winningest team in school history with a special place in college basketball lore. So good so fast … and so young and brash.
1993-94 Purdue. This team set the stage for three consecutive Big Ten titles, a feat done just twice in Big Ten annals and not since Gene Keady pulled it off from 1994-96. The start of this impressive run was fueled by national player of the year Glenn Robinson, the most dominating Big Ten player over the last quarter century. Big Dog led the nation in scoring with a 30.3 average in an uber-competitive Big Ten. He was unstoppable, the epitome of a one-man gang who had a breathless ability to score at will. The Boilermakers went 14-4 in the Big Ten and 29-5 overall, falling to Duke in the Elite Eight and ranking No. 3 in the final polls. Robinson—who had an able sidekick in sweet-shooting Cuonzo Martin but little support beyond that–turned pro and was the No. 1 overall pick.
1998-99 Michigan State. This squad went 15-1 in league play and 33-5 overall behind Mateen Cleaves and the “Flintstones.” MSU lost its Big Ten opener at Wisconsin and never tasted defeat again until falling to Duke in the Final Four. The Spartans went 13-3 in the Big Ten and 32-7 overall the next season en route to knocking off Florida in the title game—the last time the Big Ten had a national champ. While this MSU club didn’t win a national title, it took a share of the league title and set the stage for the next season and beyond, trumpeting Michigan State’s emergence as one of the nation’s premier programs and the Big Ten’s bellwether under iconic Tom Izzo.
1999-2000 Michigan State. It’s the only Big Ten team to win the national championship during the span, after all. Tom Izzo’s balanced and tough team, led by point guard Mateen Cleaves and the sweet-shooting Morris Peterson, went 13-3 in Big Ten play, with two of the losses coming by three points or fewer, before sweeping its way to the Big Ten tourney crown and the NCAA title, the program’s second national championship (1979). The Spartans won eight of their nine postseason games by double digits, the lone exception being a nine-point victory over Wisconsin in the Big Ten tourney semifinals, including an 89-76 victory over Florida in the national title game.
2004-05 Illinois. A star-studded Fighting Illini squad led by Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head ripped off a 15-1 league mark in the 100th year of Illinois basketball. Coached by Bruce Weber, Illinois began the year 29-0 before falling by one point at Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Illinois made it to the national championship game (Who can forget the 90-89 OT win vs. Arizona in the Elite Eight?) with a glistening 37-1 mark before falling by five points to North Carolina. SI voted this the best team never to win a national title. You won’t get an argument from me.
2006-07 Ohio State. Thad Matta had a torqued up Buckeye squad paced by future No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook and David Lighty. Ohio State finished 15-1 in league action and 35-4 overall, seeing their season end with a loss to Florida in the national championship tilt. The Buckeyes ended the regular season ranked No. 1 in the nation with their lone Big Ten loss coming by three points at No. 4 Wisconsin.
2010-11 Ohio State. This club won the league with a 16-2 mark, falling at Wisconsin and at Purdue. Even more impressive was a 34-3 overall record, as OSU ranked No. 1 in the nation for seven weeks and entered the NCAA tourney as the No. 1 overall seed before getting upset by two points by Kentucky in the Sweet 16. Still, it was a great march for a team that had lost Evan Turner to the NBA draft as the No. 2 overall pick in 2010. OSU was led by David Lighty, Jon Diebler, William Buford and freshman sensation Jared Sullinger.
2014-15 Wisconsin. Bo Ryan had some good squads, including the one from the year before that reached the Final Four. But this one was special, winning the Big Ten with a 16-2 record and going 36-4 overall. The Badgers lost by five points in the national championship game to Duke, the second time UW had lost to the Blue Devils that season. Frank Kaminsky was the national player of the year for a team that knocked off unbeaten juggernaut Kentucky in the Final Four, 71-64. Other key cogs for Wisconsin were Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Will it ever get any better than this in Madison?
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