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Top 11 Big Ten Basketball Teams, since 1960

Publish Date:11/08/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Through the years, the Big Ten Conference has been one of the best in the country. Over the last two decades the Big ten has not won a National Championship, and unfortunately no big ten team from the previous twenty years is on this list.

11) 1996-97 Minnesota Golden Gophers

It’s easy for Gopher fans to get frustrated talking about 1997. The memory of that season is still fresh in the minds of Gopher fans when Minnesota basketball was a league apart.

The 1996-97 season, which saw the Gophers win the Big Ten title for the third time, was a disappointing one. Minnesota won the conference with only two losses, its only losses being against Illinois and Wisconsin. Bobby Jackson, the star guard, was awarded Big Ten MVP and Defensive Players of the Year honors. Clem Haskins was named National Coach.

After two wins in the tournament, UM won a tense game against Clemson. Minnesota reached its first and only Final Four by placing five Gophers in double figures against UCLA in the regional final.

Kentucky beat the Gophers in the national semifinal. But, the future was bright in Minneapolis. It did, at least until the academic fraud scandal in 1999 that involved as many as 20 players spread over five years.

Haskins was found guilty of cheating and fired. All postseason wins from 1994 to 1998, including the Final Four, were vacated. All of the awards Jackson and Haskins were revoked.

Minnesota has not been a major NCAA tournament player since then.

Although the banner is gone, fans can still recall a few months when Minnesota played alongside other greats in college basketball.

Video: 1996-97 Minnesota Gopher Basketball

1996-97 Minnesota Gopher Basketball

10) 1964-65 Michigan Wolverines

The 23-team 1965 NCAA DI men’s basketball tournament saw Michigan improve upon its 1964 tournament final-four appearance to reach the championship against the UCLA Bruins. It lost 91-80. The team also had an opening-round bye. It defeated the Dayton Flyers 98-71, and the Vanderbilt Commodores 87-85 to win the Mideast Region. The team beat the Bill Bradley-led Princeton Tigers team 93–76, before bowing to UCLA.

Video: 1965 NCAA Basketball Championship Game Michigan vs UCLA

1965 NCAA Basketball Championship Game Michigan vs UCLA

9) 1968-69 Purdue Boilermakers

Since 1939-40, Purdue hadn’t won a Big Ten title. Indiana, the archrival in the Big Ten, had won or shared five conference crowns since then and hung two national championship banners. Three future pros led the team that put the Boilermakers on the national map.

Rick Mount, Herm Gilliam, and Billy Keller were the outstanding guards who led an explosive offense that averaged 93 points per match with no three-point line. Purdue only lost to one Big Ten foe that was Ohio State, the Boilermakers won the conference title with a record of 13-1. The Boilers dominated their final two regular-season games by a combined margin of 73 points against Indiana and Michigan.

The Boilers reached the Final Four with a Charlie Scott-led North Carolina team, but Purdue defeated the Tar Heels 92 to 65 to set up a rematch against UCLA for the national championship. To open the season, the Bruins beat Purdue. History repeated itself in the final. Mount was held to 12-of 36 shooting. Lew Alcindor scored 37 points, and 20 rebounds, and the Bruins won with a 92-72 victory.

Video: [1969] NCAA Championship Game: UCLA Bruins vs Purdue Boilermakers

[1969] NCAA Championship Game: UCLA Bruins vs Purdue Boilermakers

8) 1993 Michigan Wolverines

The Fab Five was an ultra-talented group that came up short of its ultimate goal.

Michigan was awarded the #1 seed in the West Regional. They played their first and second-round games at the McKale Centre in Tucson. They beat Coastal Carolina and were then taken to overtime by UCLA before escaping with a win.

The Wolverines advanced to the Kingdome for the regionals. As the #12, #13, & #15 seeds had all won the first round, the sub-regional was full of upsets. Michigan defeated George Washington, the #12 seed. They then met Temple for the second year in succession, having previously defeated them as #6 last year. The Wolverines beat them 77-72 to join Kentucky and North Carolina in New Orleans. The team beat Southeast Regional winner Kentucky in overtime to reach the national semifinals.

The Wolverines fell to East Regional winner North Carolina in the championship game. The Michigan final possession was among the most memorable in college basketball history. With just twenty seconds remaining and Michigan trailing by 2 with no timeouts, Chris Webber rebounded a missed free throw. Webber was confused and considered passing the ball to Jalen Rose, but he took a step instead of dribbling. Webber went upcourt to North Carolina’s half-court trap defense. However, the officials didn’t see the travel. Webber was caught in the trap and double-teamed in the corner. Webber could not break the double team and pass the ball, so he called for a timeout, which the Wolverines didn’t have.

Video: Chris Webber's timeout | 1993 National Championship

Chris Webber’s timeout | 1993 National Championship

7) 1999-2000 Michigan State Spartans

The Spartans won the No. 1 seed because of their strong finish. Their second consecutive No. 1 seed. In the Midwest region, of the NCAA tournament. The Spartans went to their third straight Sweet Sixteen by beating Valparaiso and Utah; MSU also beat Iowa State to reach the Final Four. Michigan State met up against Wisconsin in their Final Four matchup. They won a close game, 53-41.

The National Championship game saw the Spartans defeat Florida, 89-76. Cleaves was injured with 16 minutes left in the game, and the Spartans won the match despite it.

Video: 4/3/2000 - Michigan State 89 Florida 76

4/3/2000 – Michigan State 89 Florida 76

6) 1987 Indiana Hoosiers

The Indiana Hoosiers faced a tough tournament road in 1987. After a first-round blowout of Fairfield, the road got tougher as in the second round, the Hoosiers had to overcome a double-digit deficit to the Auburn Tigers.

The Sweet Sixteen saw the first Knight vs Coach K matchup, with the Hoosiers prevailing 88-82. The Regional Final saw the Hoosiers come from behind late and beat the LSU Tigers.

The Final Four wasn’t any easier as the Hoosiers out-gunned the Runnin Rebels of UNLV, and in the Championship, Keith Smart hits from the baseline to give the Hoosiers the National Title.

Video: Keith Smart winning shot 1987

Keith Smart winning shot 1987

5) 1978-79 Michigan State Spartans

It is unlikely that there will ever be another Magic Johnson.

His 6’9″ height and smile made opponents frown throughout his East Lansing seasons. But his sophomore year was a landmark in NCAA history. Johnson averaged 16 points, seven boards and eight assists per game during the season. But he managed to raise the bar in March.

Although the NCAA didn’t officially track assists until 1987, Magic was credited for three doubles against Lamar (13 points, 17 rebounds and ten assists) as well as the national semifinal against Penn (29-10-10).

Greg Kelser, forward for the Spartans, averaged more than 25 points per match in their tournament run.

Michigan State’s inconsistency appeared to be its downfall at times. Sparty’s record of 13-5 Big Ten was marred by four losses to teams in the bottom half, including an 18-point waxing at Northwestern.

The NCAA tournament was a success for the Spartans. They won all five games by at minimum 11 points. This includes the historic title win over Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores.ISU suffered its only loss of the season from the Spartans.

Video: 1979 MSU Basketball National Championship Celebration

1979 MSU Basketball National Championship Celebration

4) 1988-89 Michigan Wolverines

Bill Frieder’s team finished ninth in the nation, scoring nearly 91 points per match, going 24-7. All-American forward Glen Rice established school single-season records and career scoring records. However, his Big Ten career-scoring record was eventually eclipsed.

Six Wolverines would be able to go on to the NBA if Demetrius Calip’s seven professional games count as a “career.”

The tournament’s dominant storyline was the rise of Steve Fisher, assistant coach.

The semi-final game between Michigan and Illinois is one of the most iconic battles in Big Ten history. Rice’s speed and shooting were nearly insufficient to stop the “Flyin’ Illini”, one of Lou Henson’s most successful teams, led by Kenny Battle, Lowell Hamilton, and Kendall Gill.

Battle outscored Rice by 29 to 28, the putback by Sean Higgins sealed Michigan’s win by two points.

Rice was not the only top scorer in the final. Seton Hall’s John Morton scored 35 points on the Wolverines against Rice’s 31. While Rice’s tournament record of 184 points is still intact, it was another win in which another Wolverine was the star.

Rumeal Robinson (a 65 per cent foul-shooter) drilled 9-of-10 shots in the final, including a one-and-one with three seconds remaining to win the title.

Although the 1988-89 team did not win a Big Ten championship like the more renowned Fab Five of the early ’90s, Rice and Co. completed the job when needed. oosiers

Before the Indiana fans start with the number one argument, I will agree a case could be made that this Hoosiers team could be as high as number 2 on this list. But, they did fall short, no matter the reason, against Kentucky in the Regional finals. Steve Green was an essential part of this team and the only senior starter.

You had Buckner, May, and Bobby Wilkerson, and the Hoosiers were a suffocating defensive team.

Video: BIG Ten Elite - 1989 Michigan Basketball

BIG Ten Elite – 1989 Michigan Basketball

3) 1960-61 Ohio State Buckeyes

Wait! The 1959-60 Ohio State team won the national championship. (Right.)

The 1961-62 team didn’t?

Which is OSU’s team the best?

The 1961 national championship went to the Cincinnati Bearcats. They beat the Buckeyes 70-65, with five players scoring nine or more points.

The Buckeyes were an undefeated team before their title-game loss. They featured four future pros at the peak of their careers as collegians. Jerry Lucas joined Larry Siegfried and John Havlicek. Havlicek blossomed into a more significant scoring threat, while Siegfried was more consistent. They shot at least 48 per cent from the floor and averaged double-digits in their scoring.

The Buckeyes won the first round against Louisville and went on to win the second round over Saint Joseph’s and Kentucky. Lucas was responsible for 62 points and 43 rebounds in the two games. However, Ohio State and Cincinnati were forced to wait indefinitely as the consolation match went through four overtimes before the final could be played.

The Buckeyes, the favorite, lost in overtime. Perhaps they were too tired from their unblemished season. Lucas played a strong game with 12 rebounds and 27 points, but Havlicek scored only five points.

It’s okay to lose in the national championship game. In their last two seasons, Lucas, Havlicek, and forward Mel Nowell would only lose three times, two of which were to Cincinnati national title games.

Video: Ohio State honors 1960 national champion men's basketball team

Ohio State honors 1960 national champion men’s basketball team

2) 1980-81 Indiana Hoosiers

The Hoosiers started the season rough losing seven games during the first half of the season. Coach Bobby Knight turned the reigns over to sophomore star Isiah Thomas, and the rest was history.

You could make the case that by tournament team, this may have been the best big ten team ever. The Backcourt was Thomas and Randy Whittman; you had Landon Turner and Ray Tolbert in the front court and, of course, the great shooter Ted Kitchel. The bench had many functional pieces, but the two most important were Jimmy Thomas and Steve Risley, who came through in the clutch during the tournament.

Indiana won every tournament game by double-digits in 1981.

Video: 1981 NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four Highlights

1981 NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four Highlights “Indiana Celebration”

1) 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers

The 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers remain the last perfect national champions. It might seem unbelievable, but according to many accounts, the previous year’s team would be even better if Scott May hadn’t broken his arm. I am combining 75/76 as the greatest team in Big Ten Basketball history. The Hoosiers lost one game in those two seasons.

The 1974-75 team’s top scorer Steve Green was forced to graduate along with John Laskowski, the top reserve. This led to the Hoosiers moving more towards the defensive side of the court. Despite this, Kent Benson and May, a gifted forward, made it difficult for the offense to be stopped.

While it’s true the 1975 team was more dominant they still lost before the final four and the excuses don’t matter, they still lost.

The NCAA selection committee did not do the Hoosiers any favors. Still, they would win the school’s third national championship and coach Bob Knight’s first by beating five teams that had been ranked 17th or higher in the final poll before the tournament. Alabama, Marquette, and UCLA all made it into the top eight in the nation, the Hoosiers road was tougher in 1976 also.

The final hurdle was Michigan’s third meeting, but IU escaped another injury, a concussion to Bobby Wilkerson, defensive stopper, and defeated the Wolverines 86-66. These Hoosiers would win the title of the greatest single-season team in history at the Final Four 37 years later.

Video: The 1975-76 Indiana University Hoosiers: 'A Team for the Ages'

The 1975-76 Indiana University Hoosiers: ‘A Team for the Ages’


Honorable mentions

1993 Indiana Hoosiers

1980 Iowa Hawkeyes

1980 Purdue Boilermakers

1973 Indiana Hoosiers


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