The Crossroads Classic always seemed like a great idea: take the four best programs in one of the most talent-rich states and have them play a showcase in the capital city of basketball's soul. Unfortunately, the event has always seemed to miss out on fielding four top teams at the same time, and given the popularity of this coming weekend for showcase games across the country, that's lead to some hand-wringing. LET'S REVIEW:
THE CROSSROADS CLASSIC, A HISTORY:
2011: #14 Indiana managed to complete their rebuild in time for the first iteration of the event, and took the court on the heels of that massive upset over UK and dispatched of an #83 Notre Dame squad that wouldn't find traction until much later in the season. #125 Butler hit a layup at the buzzer to top #15 Purdue in one of the event's best overall games.
AVERAGE KENPOM RANK: 59.25 entering, 46.50 end of year.
2012: #1 Indiana became #56 Butler's latest victim in what would certainly become the event's signature game, with the plucky underdog Bulldogs taking one of the best Indiana teams in decades to overtime before hitting yet another layup at the end to stay undefeated in the event. #22 Notre Dame beat #51 Purdue in a game that we can definitely say probably happened.
AVERAGE KENPOM RANK: 32.50 entering, 34.75 end of year.
2013: #34 Indiana would be beaten again, this time by #57 Notre Dame in a decently entertaining game between two teams that would continue to get so much worse as the season wore on. Indiana's final KenPom rank fell to #67 while the Irish dropped all the way to #99 during their 15-17 campaign. #87 Purdue would, again, fail to leave Indianapolis with a victory, getting dropped by #56 Butler. Much like the first game, both of these teams would only get worse as the year wore on, Purdue falling to #97 and Butler cratering at #104.
AVERAGE KENPOM RANK: 58.50 entering, 91.75 (!!!) end of year.
2014: #51 Indiana did their best to avenge the 2012-13 team and upset #35 Butler in a 76-possession shootout that was back and forth throughout until the Hoosiers pulled away towards the end. #47 Purdue, still seeking their first win in the showcase, were waxed by #34 Notre Dame, 94-63.
AVERAGE KENPOM RANK: 41.75 entering, 32.50 end of year.
2015: #24 Indiana will take on #21 Notre Dame in the first game, with #3 Purdue against #29 Butler to follow. Had Indiana and Notre Dame avoided early season losses to bad teams, all four teams would be ranked heading into the event, adding more on-the-face value to a neutral viewer. That said, KenPom's metrics tell us that this is the strongest this showcase has ever been and it's not particularly close.
AVERAGE KENPOM RANK: 19.25 entering.
Certainly many believed that the participating teams would be at this caliber more often than not, but each team has spent at least one year, if not more, completely in the tank. Last season was the only year in which all four participants would go on to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, this year has a chance to be the second.
We've discussed before how the Crossroads Classic isn't likely to become a marquee event, certainly not something on par with the CBS Sports Classic (who has an average KenPom rating of 27.25 this year BY THE WAY), a spot in which Indiana could have secured had it not been locked into the Crossroads Classic for the next several decades (probably).
Indiana fans, for the most part, aren't happy with the season to this point, so it'll be interesting to see how that affects ticket distribution. Purdue has more momentum than they've ever had entering this event, same with Butler, will that momentum be reflected in the sell-out crowd? (As far as we know, Notre Dame basketball fans do not exist.) By and large, the event has relied on Indiana fans to sell tickets, could this be the year the fans of the other schools pick up their weight? We finally have four teams that each school should be wanting to see (with, again, the exception of disappointed Hoosier fans), is that all it will take?
When a showcase locks itself into four teams, it relies on those four teams to be consistently good enough to keep neutrals interested and fans in attendance. To date, none of the teams have been able to sustain that kind of success. If they continue to be unable to do so, the event will cause even more hand-wringing among Indiana fans, given the caliber of other games their team could be playing in on that same day.
I love the Crossroads Classic, and I want the event to take on the kind of neutral court tournament atmosphere that was envisioned when it was conceived. For the first time, the event has four participants that look the part of tournament teams, will their fans provide the atmosphere to match?