CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?!
If you’re just some random Joe Schmoe, those words probably have no deeper meaning to you. But if you’re a fan of the Indiana Hoosiers or Kentucky Wildcats, they recall a memory that you either cherish fondly or keep buried deep.
To Indiana fans, those words harken back the defeat of a hated rival on your home court. To Kentucky fans, an otherwise unspoiled regular season that culminated in a national championship.
Indiana got its moment and Kentucky lost on out matching the Hoosiers’ 1975-76 undefeated season.
In the wake of the court storming that ensued after Christian Watford’s last second prayer of a shot rang true, the two programs haven’t met on a college campus or in the regular season since.
There were attempts to renew the series, most notably by former Indiana athletic director Fred Glass, who proposed both games on campus and two games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This proposal was promptly rejected by Calipari.
The last meeting between the Hoosiers and Wildcats took place in the second round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament. The Result? A 73-67 win for Tom Crean’s Indiana squad.
Crean and Calipari clashed a few times during the former’s tenure at Georgia, but Kentucky never met the Indiana in the postseason during those years for reasons of *gestures at the Archie Miller tenure*.
The two athletic programs have competed outside of men’s basketball recently. Indiana swimming and diving just whomped Kentucky in a meet and Indiana women’s basketball welcomed the Wildcats to Assembly Hall before handing them a double-digit loss.
But now Mike Woodson is in charge, and he’s reportedly been on Calipari for months to get the series back on. This, of course, falls in line with Woodson’s goal of re-establishing Indiana as a national blueblood program by scheduling other historic powerhouses.
Kentucky, like the previously scheduled matchups with Kansas and North Carolina, is an obvious target for that kind of effort. It’s only made more obvious by the abundance of history between the Hoosiers and Wildcats.
The history that already exists between the teams also helps solidify the blue blood status. Under Miller, there was talk of scheduling a series with Arizona (which, notably, was coached by Miller’s brother), which would have been respectable in terms of competition level, but unlikely to arouse the deep-seated antagonism between fanbases that leads to high TV-Ratings and guaranteed primetime tipoff slots.
It’s like the difference between the recent matchups with a ranked Florida St. team at 10 p.m. in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge versus having Duke in Assembly Hall. Both opponents are respectable in their own right, but playing Duke meant 3 hours of Dick Vitale fawning nostalgically over the days when Indiana was undoubtedly an elite program and the connection between Bob Knight and the NCAA’s all-time winningest coach for millions to hear.
Every game against Kentucky would be in front of a sold-out crowd, nationally televised, and will likely feature at least one ranked team between the two. It immediately raises the profile of the program, becomes a recruiting event in and of itself, and gives Indiana the opportunity to get a signature win for its tournament resume before conference play begins.
This kind of move seems consistent with the way Woodson has simultaneously been able to move the program forward while honoring the best parts of its past. As somebody from Indianapolis, Woodson knows that the southern half of the state considers the rivalry with Kentucky to be at least as important, if not more(!!), than the Hoosiers’ storied rivalry with Purdue.
Securing this series with Kentucky would mean that this new-look Indiana men’s team - the one that wins heavy-weight recruiting battles, plays in NCAA tournament games, and schedules high-profile opponents - will be moving forward with both of its most historic rivalries intact.