The 2016 Big Ten Tournament is underway (yes, games involving Minnesota and Rutgers do count), but it really gets underway today with four second round games, including Iowa's game against Illinois. Iowa's had a very... conflicted... relationship with the Big Ten Tournament over the year. When the tournament was introduced (in 1998), Iowa didn't do well -- they lost as a #5 seed in 1998 and 1999. Tom Davis went 0-2 in his brief experience with the Big Ten Tournament.
But after that rocky start, Iowa became very, very good at winning Big Ten Tournament games -- they finally won their first BTT game in 2000 and a year later they authored what's still the most magical and memorable run in the history of the event, winning four games in four days to win the 2001 Big Ten Tournament title thanks to a pair of game-winning free throws from Brody Boyd in the title game against Indiana. Iowa almost pulled off the exact same feat just a year later -- they won three games in three days to make the final, but ran out of gas against Ohio State in the final. (Although thanks to NCAA sanctions, that loss technically never happened.) Iowa was back to one-and-dones in the Big Ten Tournament again in 2003 and 2004, before winning a pair of games in 2005 and winning three in 2006 to claim their second Big Ten Tournament championship.
And then the dark times hit. [REDACTED] lost his final Big Ten Tournament game at Iowa, in 2007, and his successor, Todd Lickliter, never sniffed a win in the event. (Iowa also lost to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament every single year during Lickliter's tenure at Iowa, which is a bizarre coincidence and the worst Groundhog Day reboot ever.) Unfortunately, things haven't been a whole lot better under Fran McCaffery. For all the many, many, many good things that he's done to improve the Iowa program, they've gone just 2-5 in the BTT under Fran, with three first round exits, including a pair in 2014 and 2015 that came when Iowa was the higher seeded team and favored to win.
So yeah: an event that Iowa once excelled at (albeit briefly) has become a regular house of horrors for Hawkeye hoops. Let's try to change that in the next few years, yeah?
Here's a rundown of every Big Ten team's record in the Big Ten Tournament since 1998. Note that the official records omit several games because of NCAA sanctions against Ohio State, Michigan, and Minnesota (cheaters), but I've gone ahead and added them back into the figures below. The games did happen, after all, and there were winners and losers -- the NCAA and Big Ten can doctor their record books however they like, but I think it's more instructive to look at the true results.
Even with their struggles over the last nine years (2-9), Iowa has the 7th best record in Big Ten Tournament games (and moves up to 6th if you remove Johnny-Come-Lately Maryland's one year of results). It's more than a little bonkers that 13 of Iowa's 15 wins in the event came under [REDACTED], though. Tom Davis, Todd Lickliter, and Fran McCaffery have combined to go 2-10 in the Big Ten Tournament. Yeesh.
Meanwhile, Thad Matta has absolutely owned this event -- his OSU teams have gone 22-7 and won four titles, more than anyone else. In fact, OSU has made by far the most appearances in the title game (9), with Illinois and Wisconsin (6 appearances apiece) finishing as runners-up. Michigan State has somewhat surprisingly made it to Sunday's game just five times -- but they've won four of those appearances. In fact, before their title game loss to Wisconsin last year, they were undefeated in the title game.
Here's a breakdown of Iowa's performance by win total in their Big Ten Tournament appearances.
|3 WINS||2002, 2006*|
|1 WIN||2000, 2012, 2013|
|0 WINS||1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015|
2001 really was glorious. Unfortunately, Iowa has gone one-and-done at the Big Ten Tournament (11 times) much more times than they've won at least one game (7 times). It would be nice to turn that figure around.
And here's Iowa's record in Big Ten Tournament games against every other Big Ten opponent:
Good news! Iowa's never lost to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. Granted, they've also only played them in the event once before (in 2012, Fran's first win in the Big Ten Tournament) and the same could have been said about Penn State prior to last year -- but still! Undefeated versus Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament. That's nice. Iowa also has winning records against their most likely quarterfinal and semifinal opponents, Purdue (2-1) and Indiana (2-0). So Iowa's got a bit of match-up history on their side if they're able to advance in the tournament, for whatever that's worth (practically nothing).
Iowa has played every Big Ten team at least once in the Big Ten Tournament except conference newbies Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers. Rutgers is already eliminated from the event and Maryland and Nebraska are on the other side of the bracket, so odds are pretty good Iowa won't be adding any games in the Big Ten Tournament against any of those teams until at least 2017 (though Maryland could presumably make the BTT final if they got their act together).
No Big Ten teams have given Iowa as much grief in the Big Ten Tournament as the teams from Michigan; they're a combined 2-9 against Michigan and Michigan State, including a stunning 0-5 against Michigan. Michigan State has been a more recent nemesis in the Big Ten Tournament; they eliminated Iowa in 2011, 2012, and 2013, which was annoying. Iowa can't see Michigan State until the Big Ten Tournament final, though, and won't see Michigan unless the Wolverines beat Northwestern today and Indiana tomorrow.
Iowa's history in the Big Ten Tournament has included some truly spectacular highs -- the magical 2001 run remains one of my absolute favorite Iowa basketball memories of the last 20 years -- but more recently it's included an awful lot of dispiriting lows. It would be nice to turn things around and experience a little bit more success in this event. Not all of Fran's history in conference tournaments is miserable -- he was 11-2 with three tournament wins at Siena and while the Big Ten is obviously a more challenging league than the MAAC, it would be absurd to suggest that there's something about Fran's coaching that damages them come Big Ten Tournament time. Iowa just hasn't figured out the recipe for success in this event during his tenure -- hopefully they manage to do so soon (perhaps even this year). Tournament wins in the event starting next week may be what we really crave, but Big Ten Tournament wins can be an awfully nice appetizer for that event.