By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) When it comes to reaching the Final Four, the Big Ten can hold its own with any conference in America. But when it comes to actually winning championships?
Well, that’s a different story.
Twenty-five years ago, Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson and Steve Fisher cut the nets in Seattle after leading Michigan to the 1989 NCAA Tournament title. But in all the springs since, the Big Ten has sprung only one more title on us – that by Michigan State in 2000.
Why is that? I really don’t know, and I’m not sure that anyone does.
But what I do know is that by coming up short so often on college basketball’s biggest stage, the Big Ten has spent the past quarter-century bucking the championship odds better than any organization not named the Chicago Cubs.
Consider this: In the 25 seasons since 1989, 100 teams have reached the Final Four, and the Big Ten has laid claim to 18 of them – including Wisconsin this year. That’ s second only to the ACC’s 21 qualifiers, although from its group the ACC has also produced eight champions, while the Big Ten has generated just the one.
That’s a pretty sorry fact on its own. But it gets even sorrier when you stack the basketball championship success rate of Jim Delany’s favorite league against the rest of the nation’s power conferences.
Starting with 1990, the SEC has had 16 teams reach the Final Four, which has resulted in six championships, while the Big East has had 14 participants and five champions (it would have 15 and six, if UConn was still a member). The Big 12, meanwhile, has had 10 teams reach the Final Four, resulting in one title, and the Pac-12 had had eight Final Four teams, producing two championships.
As a result, the success rate of those conferences turning their Final Four appearances into titles looks like this: ACC (.381), SEC (.375), Big East (.357), Pac-12 (.250), Big 12 (.100) and finally the Big Ten, which trails far behind at a woeful .056.
Adding insult to injury, the Big Ten also has enjoyed four seasons in which its schools made up half of the Final Four field, a feat that only the ACC can match. However, out of those four multiple-qualifier seasons, the Big Ten has seen only one lead to ultimate glory — when Wisconsin joined eventual champ Michigan State in the 2000 Final Four.
The ACC, meanwhile, has seen two of titles come out of its multiple-qualifier seasons (1991, 2001), while the SEC has had three such multiple-qualifier seasons and won a championship each time (1994, 1996, 2006).
Piling on further, the Big Ten has had at least one team in the Final Four during 14 of the past 25 seasons. That’s again bested by only the ACC with 17, while the SEC has had 13 seasons with a team in the Final Four, the Big East with 10, the Big 12 with eight and the Pac-12 with seven.
I’d say that these days, one can make a strong argument that, from top to bottom, the Big Ten has actually surpassed the ACC to become the best basketball conference in America. After all, since 2009, the Big Ten has had a Final Four qualifier in every season except 2011. The ACC, meanwhile, has had only two years out of the past six with a team in the Final Four, and those seasons were 2009 and 2010.
However, in those two seasons, the ACC’s qualifiers – North Carolina and Duke – won a title both times. The Big Ten, on the other hand, hasn’t seen Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State (twice) win any.
As for exactly why the Big Ten’s baffling title drought persists, I couldn’t say. But I do know that for basketball fans here in the Midwest, it’s making everyone awfully thirsty.