Ranking the Big Ten's Basketball Programs

Ranking the Big Ten's Basketball Programs
Michigan State has been the Big Ten's most dominant team during the Izzo era.

The 2014 season represented the Big Ten's last with 12 teams. Next season, Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten to swell the conference to 14 teams. The Big Ten generally seems to be regarded nationally as the best conference in the country. Michigan State and Ohio State have been the only schools to have consistent success over the last ten years on a national basis.

Where do each of the schools in the Big Ten stack up in terms of where they are now, where they rank all-time and where they might seem to be headed? When talking the history of the conference, Indiana is clearly the best program. Their five titles represent half of the league total. They haven't won a title since 1987 and have only been to one Final Four in last 22 seasons. They also have a winning record against all of the Big Ten schools, except Illinois.

The process of evaluating a successful program is very subjective  Are they a national program? What kind of sustained success have they had? What constitutes great? Big Ten Titles, how have they fared Head to Head, McDonald's All-Americans, All-Americans, Success in the NCAA Tournament all play a roll. When ranking the programs, current success in all aspects of ranking a program take precedence.

I set up a metric of ranking 15 attributes to determine where the schools stack up against the other schools in the conference. Finishing first in a category was 12 points, second 11 and so forth.

Michigan State

Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans have become the pre-eminent program in the Big Ten and the Upper Midwest. After taking a couple of years to transition from Judd Heathcote to Izzo. The Spartans 17 year NCAA Tournament streak ranks third. Kansas with 25 and Duke's 19 are the only schools to rank ahead of the Spartans.

In the Izzo era, the Spartans have won six Big Ten Regular season titles, four tournament titles, and made six Final Four appearances. When March comes, they are always a threat to make a deep March run. The Izzones have advanced to 11 Sweet 16s in the last 16 years and only three times have they excited in the first round. MSU has two National Championships, one under Heathcote with Magic Johnson and one with the Flintstones in 2000.

Ohio State

Thad Matta has elevated Ohio State to a status not seen since the Fred Taylor era. His 2007 team finished as the national runner-up. They had one of the greatest freshman classes in college basketball history. Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr and Daequan Cook all left for the NBA after the season.

Matta has an amazing 377-114 overall record and 275-83 at Ohio State. Under Matta the Buckeyes have five Big Ten Titles, four tournament titles and two Final Four Appearances. Football maybe king in Columbus, but Ohio State is not exclusively a football school.


John Beilein came to Michigan after the Wolverines endured nearly 20 years of scandals and the unsuccessful runs under Brian Ellerbee and Tommy Amaker. He has turned the program around and returned them to national prominence. They advanced to their first national championship game in 20 years last season.

Their run included star point guard Trey Burke from Columbus, OH and a trio of sons of NBA veterans. Tim Hardaway jr, Glen Robinson Jr and Jon Horford all come from basketball blue blood.

Beilein has led Michigan to historic heights. Their 2012 Big Ten Co-Championship was their first since 1986. They followed that up by being the national runner-up in 2013 and won a second Big Title title under Beilein this year. When they were ranked number one in January of 2013 it was their first top ranking since November of 1992.

In the metrics, Michigan ranks as the fourth best school in Big Ten history. Their 15 Elite Eight appearances rank first in Big Ten history and 17 McDonald's All-Americans are the second most ever.

After two Big Ten titles in the last three years and a number two seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Beilein has the Wolverines positioned to challenge Michigan State and Ohio State for the best program in the foreseeable future.

Bob Knight ruled Indiana and the Big Ten for over 30 years

Bob Knight ruled Indiana and the Big Ten for over 30 years


Indiana gets the four spot solely on past history. The Hoosiers volume of success ranks slightly ahead of Wisconsin's current status.

For the majority of the Knight era, Indiana was the Big Ten's premiere program. Between 1974 and 1997, the Hoosiers were the only program to win three National Championships. They went 659-242 in the Knight Era with three national championships, five Final Four appearances and 11 Big Ten titles.

The program was starting to slip before Knight left. They lost 10 games only six times in Knight first 23 seasons, then lost at least ten for five of Knight's final six seasons.

Indiana's last Final Four appearance under Knight was in 1992, they have only had limited success since then.

In the last 21 seasons, IU has made it to just three Sweet 16's and one Final Four. They went 2-5 in Knight's last seven NCAA Tournament appearances. In spite of that, the campus was in an uproar when Knight was forced out in September 2000.

Under Crean, IU has gone 101-97. He had to overcome major sanctions after the Kelvin Sampson era uncovered many NCAA violations. In Crean's first three seasons, IU went only 38-86.

They bounced back with consecutive Sweet 16 appearances in 2012 and 2013. After winning the Big Ten Title in 2013 and earning a number one seed, the Hoosiers were upset by Syracuse in the NCAA Sweet 16.

Crean was unable to overcome the loss of his four leading scorers from 2013. Particularly lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller who left early for the NBA.

Indiana missed the postseason for the seventh time in 11 years this season. The loss of Center Noah Vonleh and Forward Will Sheehey mean Crean will have to attempt to rebuild again. IU brings in just the nation's 17th best recruiting class. A complete turnaround doesn't seem like it will happen anytime soon.

The Bo Ryan Era is the best in their history.

The Bo Ryan Era is the best in Wisconsin history.


It's hard to put the Badgers behind IU with the current state of the programs. Wisconsin has become a perennial contender in the Big Ten under Bo Ryan. Their number two seed in the 2014 NCAA Tournament is their highest in program history.

Before Bo Ryan arrived, Wisconsin had only six NCAA tournament appearances in their history. Ryan has led the Badgers to the NCAA Tournament in all 13 of his appearances.

For the Badgers to move up on this list, they have to have better NCAA Tournament performances. Six times in the Ryan era that have lost to a lower seed and they only have one win over a higher seed. Although they have six Sweet 16 appearances under Ryan, they have only advanced to one Elite Eight. That was in 2004, when they defeated three double digit seeds to get there.

Many will argue that Ryan has over achieved with lesser talent. For the Badgers to reach the heights of their football team they need to win Big Ten Titles and make those deeper tournament runs.

Their consistent play has been a remarkable turnaround. Before Ryan arrived, they had only four first division finishes since 1947. That was their last Big Title before Ryan arrived.  Since Ryan has been there, they have not finished lower than fourth in the Big Ten. The Badgers have one outright Big Ten Title and have twice been the co-champions. Wisconsin has won 20 games in 11 of the last 12 years.

Ryan doesn't generally add the blue chip recruits, which could be a blessing. They rarely lose players early. Ben Brust is the only player of significance departing this year. Sam Dekker, Frank Kaminsky and a solid freshman class should ensure the Badgers continue their success going forward.


The general feeling about Illinois' basketball program has to be seen as underachievers. They are the state school in a state that has historically produced some of the best players in the history of college basketball. From Mikan to Jalil Okafor, players from the state have opted to matriculate elsewhere.

The Big Ten has been crowning a conference champion since 1906. The Illini have captured 17 titles in that span, nine of those were outright. They have just two Big Ten tournament titles in the 17 years since its inception in 1998.

In the 75 years of the NCAA Tournament, the Illini have 30 appearances (40-31) with five trips to the Final Four, but only one title game appearance (2005).

The Illini have had 13 McDonald's All-Americans in their history. Only two of those have come since 2000. The last, Jereme Richmond was a complete bust. In one season with the Illini, Richmond averaged 7.6 PPG before leaving for the NBA. He is the Illini's only McDonald's All-American since 2002. They have had 17 College All-Americans, but never a first team All-American.

Illinois' biggest criticism in recent years have been their inability to keep the best local talent instate. When national signing day occurred in November, WSCR's David Schuster called it " A bad day for hoops at Illinois." Whitney Young's Jalil Okafor's decision to attend Duke and Curie's Cliff Alexander's letter of intent with Kansas was the latest of a string of Illinois Prep All-Americans to leave the state. It sparked an interesting if at times heated discussion about where Illinois' place in college hoops ranks nationally and in the Big Ten.

Illini nation have unrealistic views of where they rank as a program both nationally and in the Big Ten. Are they a national program? What kind of sustained success have they had? What constitutes great?

The true sign of a national program is the ability to recruit players from all over. Illinois has only three players from out of state this season. Freshman Center Maverick Morgan is from Springboro, OH, freshman forward Austin Colbert is from Chesapeake, VA and senior forward Jon Ekey is from Independence, MO.

Illinois needs to find a balance. In the years they had their greatest success, its the players from the Land of Lincoln who have led them. Deron Williams was the lone exception. The star of the Illini's 2005 National Runner-Up team was from the Colony, TX.

In two seasons, John Groce has posted a pedestrian 43-27 record with only one NCAA Tournament appearance. They won one game in the NCAA's in 2013, before losing a tight game to Miami in the round of 32. That lags behind Ryan who hasn't missed an NCAA Tournament in his Wisconsin tenure.

Illinois brings back most of its team in 2014-15. Their starting back court of Ravonte Rice and Tracy Abrams returns next season and Groce' brings in the 38th best recruiting class according to ESPN. The prize of that class is power forward Leron Black from Memphis/.


Despite losing Roy Devyn Marble, Fran McCaffrey has Iowa on the upswing.

Despite losing Roy Devyn Marble, Fran McCaffrey has Iowa on the upswing.

Under the metrics, Iowa is a distant sixth. The Hawkeyes have had many eras of success but have been unable to sustain it. Fran McCaffrey replaced Todd Lickliter after the 2010 season and had a major rebuilding job.

Under Steve Alford, Iowa had mixed success. They won almost 60 percent of their games under Alford, but that didn't translate into postseason success or Big Ten Titles. The Hawkeyes won only one NCAA Tournament game in the Aflord era before he left for New Mexico after the 2007 season.

Lickliter set Iowa back after a 38-58 three year record. He was unable to duplicate his success from Butler. McCaffrey has rebuilt the Hawkeyes and after a great start, the wavered down the stretch this season. He faces a tough off-season after it was recently announced his son Patrick has a malignant thyroid tumor.

Iowa loses leading scorer Roy Devyn Marble and second leading rebounder Melsahn Basabe. Iowa has improved every year under McCaffrey. It remains to be seen if they can continue that next year without Marble. Their recruiting class doesn't rank in the top 40.


After six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances commencing in Matt Painter's second season, the Boilermakers have struggled the last two seasons.

Painter seemed to have brought Purdue back to its heights of the Keady era. During their NCAA streak from 2007-12, Purdue never lost a first round game. They won the Big Ten in 2010, finished runner-up in 2011 and had back to back Sweet 16 appearances in 2009 and 2010.

The departures of JuJuan Johnson and E'Twan Moore after the 2011 season and Robbie Hummel at the end of 2012 set Purdue back.

Too Many defections have hurt the Boilermakers the last two seasons. They have no junior class and lose their top two scorers from this season. Terone Johnson was a senior and brother Robbie announced his decision to transfer.

They might also lose center A.J. Hammonds to the NBA draft. He has not announced his decision yet. He's listed as the 42nd ranked prospect in the 2014 draft according to draft express.

Despite their long history of success, Purdue has made only two Final Four's. Keady is one of the best coaches in Big Ten history and second all-time in Big Ten wins to Knight. He never made the Final Four however. Purdue's 28 All-Americans and 22 Big Ten titles rank first All-Time.

The future seems bright for the Boilers despite a mostly empty cupboard. Painter brings in the Big Ten's third best recruiting class and the nation's 21st best class. Center Isaac Haas and Small Forward Vincent Edwards rank in the ESPN top 100.

Nathan Baird of the Lafayette Journal and Courier said of Purdue when discussing their future

"The Boilermakers made no recognizable step forward (this season). Another disappointing season led to more roster attrition, and an offseason of uncertainty and pessimism awaits."


Tim Miles and the New Pinnacle Bank arena has Nebraska positioned to become solid basketball program for years to come.

Tim Miles and the New Pinnacle Bank arena has Nebraska positioned to become solid basketball program for years to come.

Tim Miles came to Nebraska after turning around the program at Colorado State. Miles led the Rams to the 2012 NCAA Tournament before landing in Lincoln.

It took Miles just two seasons to lead the Cornhuskers to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 16 years. Miles predecessors, Barry Collier and Doc Sadler were unable to lead the Huskers to the tournament in their tenure. Collier preceeded Lickliter at Butler with a one year stint by Matta in between.

They return most of their team for the 2014-15 season. Only part time starter Ray Gallegos departs.

Terran Pettway and Shavon Shields give Nebraska one of the best returning tandems in Big Ten next year. Pettway was first team all Big-Ten and Shields honorable mention. Miles coaches Big Ten Coach of the Year.

They still have a lot to accomplish. Nebraska is hasn't broken through with a win in seven NCAA Tournament appearances, hasn't had an All-American since 1913 and hasn't won a conference title since 1950. Next year's returning cast should give them a chance to least break through on winning an NCAA Tournament game.


The Golden Gophers basketball history has been marred by many scandals. They have won only two Big Ten titles in the NCAA Tournament era and have just 12 NCAA Tournament appearances. They've only made one Final Four Appearance and just four trips to the Sweet 16.

The Tubby Smith era appeared promising, but they won only one tournament game during his tenure. That's their only NCAA Tournament victory since 1997.

The only starter the Gophers lose is third leading scorer Austin Hollins.

With four starters back and junior college transfer Carlos Morris coming in next year, the Gopher basketball program is improving under Richard Pitino.

Penn State 

Penn State's basketball history is spotty. They have not made back to back NCAA Tournament appearances since 1955. They don't have back to back postseason appearances since 1995 and 1996.

Happy Valley is not as happy in the winter as they are in the fall. It takes a distant second to football. They've never had an All-American and only seven players have been named All Big-Ten since joining the conference in 1993.

The Nittany Lions lose half of their talented backcourt in Tim Frazier, but return DJ Newbill for his senior season.

It's hard to tell where Penn State stands going forward. Chambers is just 37-47 overall and 12-42 in the Big Ten in three seasons. He was only at Boston University for two seasons before that. Penn State's recruits don't seem that promising. After next season they lose Newbill.


Northwestern's biggest claim to fame in basketball is infamous for never having appeared in the NCAA Tournament in its 75 year existence. In 109 seasons of basketball, in addition to only five NIT appearances, the Wildcats have not a won Big Ten title since 1933, have not finished above fourth in the conference since 1968 and have a losing record against every team in the Big Ten.

Bill Carmody changed the culture at Northwestern. Their first straight NIT appearances from 2009-12 were the first times in school history the basketball program had back to back postseason appearances. His failure to take Northwestern to the NCAA's ultimately cost him his job.

Enter Chris Collins. The former Duke and Glenbrook North star was brought over from Duke to lead Northwestern to their first NCAA Tournament appearance.

Despite losing Drew Crawford, Collins has the Wildcats positioned to finally breakthrough and make the tournament in the next few seasons. He brings in the best recruiting class in school history. The Wildcats class ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 23rd nationally. Top 100 forward Victor Law leads the class.

Collins will need a bounce back year from point guard David Sobolewski and for Jershon Cobb and Tre Demps to step up in Crawford's departure next season. But it could be the most talent in school history.

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