It is the long-held belief of this blog — and this writer — that the Crossroads Classic has served its purpose. It was a good idea, it lived a good life and it gave us Crossroads Legend of the Game Juwan Morgan, but it’s time to move on. The novelty is gone, it eats up a valuable weekend on the non-conference calendar and Indiana, by far, pulls more than its fair weight at the gate. After the current agreement expires next year, it should not be renewed.
It feels like we have this conversation every year — at least, since IU missed its chance to join Kentucky, North Carolina and UCLA in the CBS Sports Classic in 2014. For better or worse, Crossroads Discourse has become a mid-December tradition. The folks in the Keep It crowd can make the argument that the event typically produces competitive games, and they’d be correct. It’s not short on decent basketball, and if the alternative means a campus home game against the likes of Tarleton State or Binghamton, then please, by all means, handcuff Archie Miller to a chair and force him to renew the damn contract. But it’s just ... hmmmm ... how do I put this? It’s just gotten kind of stale, and it’s felt for a few years now that everyone involved is ready to call it. We’ll find out if that’s indeed the case soon enough.
OK, now that my contractually-obligated Crossroads Take is complete, let’s get on with the preview.
It was all coming together pretty well for Butler and LaVall Jordan last season. The Bulldogs peaked at No. 5 in the Associated Press rankings in mid January, before ending the campaign at No. 23. By the end of the regular season slate, Butler had posted the third-most Quad 1 wins (10) in the country. Not bad! So far this fall, things haven’t been nearly as enjoyable. Butler enters the Crossroads Classic having played only two games, the result of a 21-day, COVID-related gap that swallowed the early portion of the schedule. The Bulldogs squeezed past Western Michigan, 66-62, in their season opener on Nov. 25, then fell 85-66 to Villanova in their first game back on Wednesday. And that’s it! That’s all they’ve been able to get in!
Jordan’s team is trying to replace 62.9% of its scoring from a season ago, including the contributions of Kamar Baldwin and Sean McDermott. As a team, the Bulldogs return merely 21 of the 212 3-pointers they made a season ago, and they’re relying on a mix of seniors and freshmen — two classes that combined for all 66 of the points scored earlier this week at Villanova.
It starts with the older guys, in particular guards Aaron Thompson and Jair Bolden, a South Carolina transfer. Thompson, a darn good defender, showed some scoring punch in the season opener when he poured in a career-best 21 points against Western Michigan. So far, he’s averaging 17.5 points, 2.5 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. Bolden led the Bulldogs with 18 points and four 3-pointers against Villanova after setting a career high with nine rebounds against the Broncos. A year ago, Bolden led the Gamecocks in 3-point shooting (41.2%) and posted a turnover rate of 11.2%. Butler’s primary ball-handling duties are expected to belong to freshman point guard Chuck Harris, who scored 12 points in his first career start on Wednesday. Senior forward Bryce Nze, meanwhile, gives Butler a presence down low. Nze is the second-leading returning rebounder in the Big East after pacing the Bulldogs in rebounds 13 times during the 19-20 campaign.
As a group, Butler was picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason coaches poll for the second straight season.
Things to watch
Did Sunday inspire some shooting confidence?
In overcoming a slow start to Sunday’s buy game against North Alabama, Indiana found some shooting traction during the second half. The Hoosiers knocked in 13 3-pointers — the second-highest total of the Archie Miller era. Obviously, with this group, you really can’t expect a complete carryover in that department, but the hope is that seeing some shots go in gives Indiana some confidence moving forward. And anything that can help clear some space for Trayce Jackson-Davis underneath will be appreciated.
Butler’s depth isn’t great
The Bulldogs have already been relying on younger players to impact their rotation, and they could be further shorthanded against IU on Saturday. According to David Woods of the Indianapolis Star, Butler could have as few as eight available players for the Crossroads Classic if Aaron Thompson can’t go. Thompson will be a game-time decision after suffering a knee injury in the loss to Villanova. Butler already knows that it won’t have East Tennessee State transfer Bo Hodges available in its backcourt after he was ruled academically ineligible for the 2020-21 season on Friday.
Armaan Franklin likes going home
Two of the best games that the Indianapolis native played as a freshman took place at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. In the same event last December, Franklin dropped in 17 points, sank four 3-pointers and hit the go-ahead basket with 14 seconds left in IU’s win over Notre Dame. Against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament, Franklin scored 13 points, drilled three 3-pointers and grabbed eight rebounds. Franklin enters the Butler game on the heels of a career-high 19-point performance last weekend against North Alabama.
Game Info / How to Watch
Who? Indiana (4-2) vs. Butler (1-1)
Where? Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Ind.
When? Saturday, 11:30 a.m. ET
Channel? FS1 | Vince Welch (p-b-p), Stephen Bardo (analyst)
Radio? IU Radio Network; Sirius 106, XM 196, Internet 958: Don Fischer, Errek Suhr & Joe Smith
Vegas? Indiana -8