In December 1996, the Big Ten Council of Presidents voted to institute a postseason basketball tournament. On March 5, 1998, that dream became a reality when Minnesota and Northwestern tipped off the first game of the 1998 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at the United Center in Chicago.
The state of Michigan dominated the first three Big Ten Tournaments. Michigan won the inaugural championship as a No. 4 seed in 1998 while Michigan State was crowned Big Ten Tournament champions in 1999 and 2000 and went on to win the 2000 NCAA Championship. Iowa became the lowest-seeded team to win the event in 2001, as the sixth-seeded Hawkeyes won four games in four days to earn the League’s NCAA automatic berth.
The 2002 Big Ten Tournament marked the first time the event was held outside of Chicago, as the Conference converged on Indianapolis. In addition, for the first time ever, both the men’s and women’s Tournaments were played at the same site, the Conseco Fieldhouse, on consecutive weekends. Ohio State collected the 2002 title after knocking off defending champion Iowa, which had once again advanced to the finals despite a No. 9 seed.
In 2003, the Big Ten Tournament returned to Chicago and the United Center as second-seeded Illinois earned its first tourney crown. For the second straight year, the runner-up was the defending tournament champion, as the eighth-seeded Buckeyes won three games in three days to advance to the final game.
After being knocked off in the opening game in each of the last three Big Ten Tournaments, including the last two as the No. 1 seed, Wisconsin claimed its first Conference Tournament title in 2004 by defeating Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
History has shown that every team at the Big Ten Tournament will have a shot at leaving town with the title. In addition to Ohio State’s magical run as the eighth seed in 2003 and Iowa’s success as the sixth and ninth seed in 2001 and 2002, the No. 4 seed has advanced to the finals three times. The Hawkeyes’ title-game foe in 2001 was fourth-seeded Indiana, Michigan claimed the first tourney title as a No. 4 seed in 1998 and Illinois reached the finals in 2000 as a fourth seed. The Illini pulled off an even bigger shock in the 1999 Tournament, advancing to the championship game despite holding the No. 11 seed. That 1999 event is the only year the top-seeded team has won the Big Ten Tournament (Michigan State), as the No. 1 seed has been upset in the quarterfinals in four of the seven events, including two of the last three years.