On December 9, Louisville and Indiana played an exciting, up-tempo game in Madison Square Garden as part of the Jimmy V Classic. Despite holding serve with a top-10 opponent for about three-fourths of the game, Indiana fell apart late and lost 94-74. Despite the IU loss, it was a good prime-time matchup and for a great cause, and the game showed that the Hoosiers could at least hang around with any team in the country.
The only problems that arose? 1) This was a one-time deal, and 2) the game was played about 750 miles from both campuses.
But now, we could be coming close to a solution for both issues.
At first, the MSG matchup prompted immediate talk of future contests between the two state universities, which are only a two-hour drive away from each other. Louisville coach Rick Pitino mentioned in his press conference after the December game that he hoped the Cardinals and Hoosiers could play two games against each other at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in the near future.
However, new details emerged Monday night on Pitino's radio show about a proposed three-game IU-Louisville series. If all goes as Pitino mentioned, the Cards would face the Hoosiers in Lucas Oil Stadium next season. Both fanbases would receive a ticket allotment of 35,000 for this game (or 10,500 if it ends up being held at Bankers Life Fieldhouse), which would make for a Final Four-like atmosphere in downtown Indy. After that, the series would shift to the home venues of both teams. First, the series would head to a newly-renovated Assembly Hall in Bloomington for the 2016-17 season. In the 2017-18 season, the two teams would meet at the KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville.
Tom Crean responded to Pitino's plan the day after it was introduced by not denying the talks, but not quite confirming the idea either. He obviously seemed like he knew about it, but didn't think now was the time and place to discuss it, and said to wait until an official announcement could be made.
Were this series to take place, it would add to an already crowded non-conference schedule for the Hoosiers for next season. Here is what Hoosier fans can already expect to see, besides a potential game against Louisville in Lucas Oil:
Crossroads Classic - Notre Dame.
Maui Invitational - games against three of the following opponents: Kansas, UCLA, UNLV, St. John's, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Chaminade.
ACC/B1G Challenge - opponent TBD. This will likely be a road game since IU hosted Pitt in the Challenge this season.
Gavitt Tipoff Games (the new B1G vs. Big East tournament) - opponent TBD. Maybe a home game? Possibly against Butler since IU won't play them next year in Crossroads? Another dark horse option would be Marquette because CREEEAAANNNNN.
Let's hope this series ends up happening. Yes, by including the Louisville game, these are six potential matchups against quality opponents. However, the Hoosiers play 13 non-conference games per season. So IU could still schedule 7 cupcake games inside Assembly Hall against the Grand Canyons and Savannah States of the world while maintaining a tough non-con schedule that would likely feature home, road, and neutral-site games.
In addition, this is a matchup that would get the two neighboring states talking. While IU still has a stronghold across Southern Indiana, U of L has a big footprint in the metropolitan area. There is plenty of overlap between the two fanbases, and lots of possibly for good rivalry between two blue-blood programs with 8 national titles between them. And I'm certain that Cards fans would have no qualms about driving two hours up I-65 to catch a game like this one in Indy.
Furthermore, IU may be seeing a much different Louisville team next year. As a Louisville resident and frequent consumer of Louisville sports talk radio, I can tell you that Cards fans are worried about a rebuilding season coming up. Of the four major scorers on that team, two will be lost to graduation (Chris Jones and Wayne Blackshear) and another will likely head to the NBA early (Montrezl Harrell). Only Terry Rozier is expected to stay, and that's not lock either if he continues his prolific play during ACC season. Of course, Pitino squads don't usually have down years, but it could be a slight reprieve.
And of course, there is an ulterior motive for both teams in this whole setup.
Sticking it to Big Blue Nation.
Obviously IU hasn't played UK in the regular season since the Wat Shot in 2011, and both athletic departments have reached a stalemate about playing again. And of course, Pitino used to coach at UK, and under Calipari, the Wildcats have been a consistent thorn in Louisville's side. While U of L and UK will still play annually, this game would be a reminder to the Wildcats that IU doesn't need their help for scheduling a blue-blood opponent - in fact, they can do so against UK's biggest rivals.
While we don't know exactly how far Tom Jurich and Fred Glass are in negotiations, Pitino has put the ball in Indiana's court, at least in the public eye. So let's hope that the Cards and Hoosiers can get the t's crossed and the i's dotted on this three-game series - it would be beneficial to both the teams and their fanbases, and it would generate a ton of excitement in both Indiana and Kentucky each year.