For the fourth time in the history of these two storied programs, but for the first time since 1983, Indiana and Kentucky will meet in the NCAA Tournament Friday night. All three of the previous NCAA Tournament meetings occurred in an eleven-season span early in the Bob Knight era: 1973 (IU won), 1975 (Kentucky won), and 1983 (Kentucky won). A few notes:
- All four of the IU-UK NCAA Tournament meetings have been rematches of regular season games, and all of those regular season games were IU wins in Bloomington.
- All of the previous IU teams to have played Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament won the Big Ten outright.
- This is the first time that IU has been the underdog in an IU-UK NCAA Tournament matchup. The 1973 and 1975 tournaments predate the introduction of seeding, but IU was ranked higher than UK in the AP poll in 1973, was undefeated and ranked #1 in 1975, and was a 2 seed to Kentucky's 3 seed in 1983.
As for the games themselves:
March 17, 1973: Indiana 72, Kentucky 65 (Mideast Regional Final, Nashville). Both Indiana and Kentucky were programs in transition in 1973. Kentucky coach Joe B Hall was in his first season as the successor to Adolph Rupp, who spent 42 years as the Wildcats' coach. Bob Knight was in his second season at Indiana and won the Big Ten outright. IU had won the regular season matchup in Bloomington, and won in Nasvhille as well, making 1972-73 the first and still only time that IU or Kentucky has defeated the other twice in the same season. As the above-linked box score makes clear, it was an unusually rough shooting performance for a Knight era team (44 percent), but as was so often the case under Knight's leadership (and is a common trait with the current Hoosiers as well), IU won the game at the line, making 10 free throws to Kentucky's three. Steve Downing led IU with 23 points on 10-22 shooting, and Quinn Buckner added 16. John Laskowski scored 10 points on 4-5 shooting off the bench. The win in the regional final sent IU to the Final Four for the first of five times under Knight and for the first time in 20 years. The Hoosiers went on to lose to eventual NCAA champion UCLA in the national semifinals.
March 22, 1975: Kentucky 92, Indiana 90 (Mideast Regional Final, Dayton): This game was before my time, but every IU fan I know who endured this game considers it the toughest moment in the history of Indiana basketball. In Bob Knight's fourth season, IU ran the table, both in the Big Ten and overall, but lost Scott May to a broken arm in the regular season finale against Purdue. Bob Knight has always said that this was the best team he ever coached, even better than the undefeated national champions of 1976. Perhaps nothing better illustrates the dominance of the 1975 Hoosiers than their 98-74 beatdown, in Bloomington in December, of a UK team that entered the Tournament 22-4. May scored 25 points in the regular season meeting, but he managed only 2 points in seven minutes in the Tournament game, which he played with a cast on his left arm. A late comeback fell short, and the Wildcats advanced to the Final Four, where they ultimately lost the championship game to UCLA in John Wooden's last game.
March 24, 1983: Kentucky 64, Indiana 59 (Mideast Regional Semifinal). The five banners in the south end of Assembly Hall honor IU's NCAA champions, and the banners in the north end honor various other accomplishments: NIT titles, Final Four appearances, the undefeated regular season of 1975. While there now are two banners listing the years of IU's 20 Big Ten titles, those weren't present during Bob Knight's tenure. Before 2000, the only Big Ten title banner honored the 1983 team, which Knight ordered as a tribute to the fans, who he credited with inspiring the team to win its final three home games, over Purdue, Illinois, and Ohio State, to seal the conference title after losing Ted Kitchel to injury. While IU survived the loss of Kitchel in the regular season, in the Tournament, his absence was felt, and IU lost despite strong performances by Randy Wittman and Uwe Blab. If there was any consolation, it's that after beating IU, Kentucky had to play yet another rival in the regional final, and the Wildcats lost to Louisville in overtime.
On Friday, IU will play the underdog role in an IU-UK NCAA Tournament game, and hopefully the Hoosiers can find a way to even the all-time NCAA series with the Wildcats.