I would advise anyone with a television set to tune into ESPN at 5:15 on Saturday evening. I can’t guarantee that what you will see will be a perfectly played basketball game, but what I can guarantee is that there will be passion – on the court, in the stands, and up-and-down the sidelines. Passion all over your television screen. It’s Indiana versus Kentucky for goodness’ sake!
The Indiana-Kentucky basketball rivalry began in 1924, the year my grandma was born, with an enthralling 20-18 victory for the Hoosiers in Lexington. I’m sure no one knew at the time what kind of legendary programs both schools would accumulate over the years. Currently, IU and Kentucky have combined for an astounding 12 national titles. Names, such as McCracken, Rupp, Knight, Riley, Thomas, Mashburn, Alford, and others, can be heard echoing throughout Rupp Arena and Assembly Hall to this day. This IS basketball country after all.
Although the rivalry began in 1924, the two teams didn’t play each other from 1944 until 1965. They have, however, played every year since 1969. Kentucky leads the overall series 31-23 and has won the last three meetings. For years, the two teams met on neutral courts in both Indianapolis and Louisville; however, in 2006, they went back to playing the rivalry in Lexington and Bloomington as it was intended to be played, citing its humble beginnings in 1924. So, with that history lesson, we now arrive at present times and, more notably, at Saturday afternoon:
The game to be played in Bloomington will mean more to Hoosier fans than any game in recent memory. The Hoosiers are on the “brink” (not to reference any poorly-acted ESPN movies based on amazing books or anything). Fans can see the sun slowly rising for the first time in 4 years, and you can feel it walking around campus. There is a buzz that I haven’t felt since my freshman year of college, and it’s only mid-week. I guess it’s kind of like this Tropicana commercial. Let’s just hope that our sun is real. The Hoosiers are 8-0, with decent victories over Butler and NC State, but they have yet to play a great team, let alone the most talented team in the country.
If this game was played anywhere other than Bloomington, I would expect Kentucky to cruise, but it’s not. The Hoosiers and their fans on Saturday can likened to a rabid pit bull locked in a cage for a long period of time and fed solely through a straw, who is suddenly released to prey on anything in sight. Hoosier Nation is flat-out hungry. I know Coach K said one of the loudest arenas he had ever been in in his life was Assembly Hall in 2005 when the Hoosiers played Duke. If the game on Saturday is close at all, expect the same kind of statement from Coach Cal.
On the other side, Kentucky comes in with arguably the most talented team in America, but, as with any Calipari team, they are young. This year’s Kentucky team touts freshman phenom Anthony Davis, whose unibrow rivals even that of Fran from Dodgeball, as well as Indiana native, Marquis Teague, who passed up the Hoosiers and Boilers for greener pastures to the south. The ‘Cats are ranked #1 in the nation, but they have yet to be tested in a hostile environment. Assembly Hall may be the most hostile environment they face all year. We are going to learn a lot about the ‘Cats on Saturday evening.
So, the stage is set. Two unbeatens going head-to-head at the Carnegie Hall of Basketball (according to Gus Johnson at least). By Saturday night, much will be known about the state of both programs. Has IU really come that far? Is Kentucky really that good? Grab a seat on the couch and find out. Regardless of the outcome, make sure you enjoy the passion that comes with one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball. After all, if Calipari has his way, this may be the last time you ever get a chance to see it.