It’s been quite a while since Division I college basketball in Indiana has struggled this much just to be average.
Here we are, just three weeks away from NCAA Tournament time, on the outside of relevance.
Indiana (15-11), Purdue (15-12), Notre Dame (14-14) and Butler (12-15) all are miles away from the selection bubble, let alone an invite.
The best basketball state in the nation, which has sent as many as five teams in recent years, is a likely no-show.
There is not even a probable dance partner from the state’s mid-majors. IPFW (20-9) has the best chance but will have to win its tournament. Ball State (4-20), Indiana State (21-7), Evansville (11-18) and Valpo (17-12) all have little hope. The Sycamores are closest to the bubble (59th RPI) but likely will have to beat undefeated Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Tournament to qualify.
This is sheer madness of the non-March variety.
That is why this week is especially key. For IU and Purdue, both 5-8 in the Big Ten with five games to play, destiny stills lies within the grasp of each. But now is the time to get hot.
That means winning out and taking at least one game in the Big Ten Tournament.
Unlikely? Perhaps. For the first time in six years, neither IU nor Purdue is ranked in the Top 25.
Desperation can sometimes produce inspired results.
Indiana’s road starts tonight at No. 16 Wisconsin. From there, the Hoosiers have home games with No. 15 Iowa, No. 24 Ohio State and Nebraska before finishing at No. 20. Michigan.
Here is the puzzling positive: IU has a better winning percentage against conference foes with winning records (2-2 vs. 3-6).
Purdue’s path is almost as challenging, with road trips to Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin and home dates with Michigan and Northwestern.
The odds are long, but at least they are still on the board. It will take wins this week to keep them there.
TV commentator Dick Vitale may get on your nerves with his over-the-top zest, but his love of the game cannot be questioned. That is why his continued push to restore the IU-Kentucky basketball series deserves attention.
Vitale has made calls to IU’s Tom Crean and UK’s John Calipari, with a plan to resume the December contest for charity, he told WDRB radio.
Play it on a four-year rotation, he suggests, with games at both campuses, Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium and the Louisville’s KFC Yum Center.
“I say it to all of you, that game has to happen,” Vitale said, adding that the game should be an annual contest to benefit the Jimmy V Foundation for pediatric cancer research. “Please put pressure. Write to Calipari. Write to Tom Crean. Get it done. You fans deserve it. The players deserve it. All the people in the basketball community deserve it. There’s no way shape or form that Kentucky and Indiana should not play.”
He’s right on several levels.
Of course, the rivalry — which ended in 2012 after 43 straight seasons — deserves to be played.
Location became the sticking point after IU’s 73-72 Assembly Hall win and the subsequent over-hyped court storming.
Find a common ground. If that means no college campuses for a few years, so be it. Take that condition and build from it.
IU, this means you. Frankly, the Hoosiers need this series much more than UK, which already has annual December rivalry games with Louisville and North Carolina.
As Vitale suggests, make this a charity event. While the Jimmy V cause is an admirable one, maybe it should be more personal to each school. Both are exemplary medical research institutions. Direct the proceeds there and build a weeklong series of charity challenges between the schools. This series has always been about more than just basketball, and the schools should embrace that.
Swallow some pride and make it happen.
Bob Johnson is a correspondent for the Daily Journal. His columns appear Tuesdays and Fridays. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.