LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03: Jeff Withey #5 of the Kansas Jayhawks shoots a free throw during the game against the South Florida Bulls on December 3, 2011 at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
After a couple of decades of what mostly was Kentucky dominance, the IU-UK series returned to national prominence in 2011-12. In December, of course, Christian Watford gave IU the win with what may have been the most memorable shot of the entire college basketball season. The teams met again in the NCAA Tournament and played a competitive and eye-pleasing game that UK mostly had in hand in the second half. Every preseason poll I have seen places both the Hoosiers and the Wildcats in the top 5. Despite all that, it seems that the series, which has been an annual even since December 1969, might go away, at least for a while.
First, it appears that IU and UK disagree about the venue for the series going forward. UK apparently wants the series to return to neutral sites, while IU wants to keep the game on campus. I have mixed feelings about this. As most IU fans know, the series has always been played occasionally at neutral sites, and the Indianapolis-Louisville rotation lasted from 1991 through 2005. If I recall correctly, it was some scheduling snafu on the part of Kentucky, involving its failure to secure Freedom Hall, that led to the series returning to campus sites in 2006-07. I loved the neutral site games. They created a great atmosphere, and the games in Indianapolis, played at the Hoosier Dome, allowed rank-and-file fans to see a big game. I agree that on campus is the ideal site for most college games, but the neutral site atmosphere was always very good for IU-UK.
On the other hand, I'm inclined to let Kentucky push us around. After the game in Bloomington, and reports about overzealous and poorly behaved IU fans, there was lots of hand-wringing south of the river about whether UK could possibly send its players and fans back to such a horrible place. Frankly, I saw that a cover for the fear that Assembly Hall is going to be a much tougher place to beat IU going forward than would be Lucas Oil Stadium, and I still believe that. I don't mind moving the game to neutral sites, but I do mind crediting the nonsense spouted by Kentucky fans on this issue.
In addition, there has been a new development reported by Andy Katz and others: IU and Kansas are considering a series, and Tom Crean says that IU won't play Kentucky and Kansas in the same season. I'm not sure how I feel about that, either. I understand that IU's schedule is shaping up to be pretty tough in the non-conference. We probably will play both Georgetown and UCLA in the Barclays event in Brooklyn, much-improved Butler on a neutral court, and almost certainly Duke or North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Adding both Kentucky and Kansas to the mix, and with a very tough Big Ten awaiting, would be pretty tough. I can accept that for now, just two seasons removed from 12-20, Crean needs to be careful with the schedule. But I hope that isn't his philosophy four years from now. I think adding occasional home-and-homes against other top shelf programs, while maintaining IU's rivalry with Kentucky, would be great.
Still, if IU were going to lose the Kentucky series, there isn't any program I would rather play than Kansas. As I mentioned in this post last fall, Kansas and IU have much in common: elite basketball tradition, spotty-at-best football tradition, nice college towns, and even campuses that look quite a bit a like (seriously, click through to the old post and look at the picture of KU's campus). IU's last series with Kansas lined up perfectly with my four years in college: a game at the Hoosier Dome in 1992-93, at Allen Fieldhouse in 1993-94, at Assembly Hall in 1994-95, and at Kemper Arena in Kansas City in 1995-96. Kansas went 3-1 in that series, and the most exciting game was the one in Lawrence, in which Jacque Vaughn, as a freshman, hit the game winning shot in overtime. The most decisive game of the series, however, was IU's sole win. The 1994-95 Hoosiers were unranked and 4-4 entering the game, but whipped the #2 Jayhawks by 19. Ultimately, I would hate to see a regional rivalry such as IU-UK go away. On the other hand, scheduling Kansas would be a nice way of saying, "hey, Kentucky, guess what? We would like to play you, but we certainly don't need you." (In addition, I'm sure that Kansas, which is being begged by Missouri to continue that rivalry as a non-conference game when Missouri bolts for the Big 12, would love to have a series against a much more storied program to rub in Mizzou's face).
Well, those are my rambling thoughts. What does everyone else think?