Earlier this season, I talked about some of the great moments between Indiana and Purdue as it grew into one of the most heated rivalries in the country thanks to Gene Keady and Bobby Knight. Over 20 seasons the teams played 41 times with Purdue earning a slim 21-20 edge. Several matchups decided the Big Ten title and either Indiana or Purdue went into the NCAA Tournament with a #1 seed at least six times during that era.
Unfortunately, the rivalry has fallen from those heights since Bobby Knight was fired in the summer of 2000. Knight's firing coincided with Gene Keady slowly seeing his program ebb away. Purdue went to one NCAA Tournament from 2001-2006, and never contended for a Big Ten title in that time. Indiana, contrary to what some say, had success under Mike Davis, reaching the National Championship game and winning a share of a Big Ten title, but they faded as well before the Kelvin Sampson debacle.
The rivalry has been defined by coaching changes over the past decade. Indiana is on its third coach since Knight, with Mike Davis having the most success by far. Purdue had its transition to Matt Painter, suffering in the overall series during the waning Keady years and Painter's first season. Painter is now 5-3 against the Hoosiers, winning his last four. Tom Crean is 0-4 against Purdue, while Kelvin Sampson was 2-1 and Mike Davis was 9-2.
Purdue is 7-11 against Indiana since Knight's firing. Mike Davis won his first four games against the Boilermakers and only lost to Purdue twice during his time in Bloomington. Unfortunately, he was fired not because he wasn't a successful coach, but because he wasn't Bob Knight. I'll never understand the argument that he wasn't successful at Indiana. He took over in a very difficult situation, took the Hoosiers to a National Championship game, won a Big Ten title, and took them to five NCAA Tournaments in seven years. That is success no matter how you measure it.
I have a feeling that many Indiana fans would love to go back to the Mike Davis teams that consistently made the NCAA Tournament instead of what happened under Sampson. Instead, they sold their integrity for a season and a half of Sampson that resulted in two NCAA Tournament appearances, one postseason win, zero championships, and the complete gutting of their program to the point where they are in line for their third straight 10th place or worse finish. Just as it was our own fault for struggling under Keady and seeing recruiting decline, Indiana has no one to blame but themselves for their current situation.
So where is the rivalry headed? It is very difficult to say. Injuries have affected Indiana's growth the last two years, but they have been able to recruit talented players despite their struggles. So far, that hasn't paid off in wins on the court, and that has to be a concern. Purdue is far ahead of them on the court and the Boilermakers look to at least be an NCAA Tournament mainstay for years to come. The injury to Robbie Hummel has the blessing in disguise of him returning to help in what will be a transition year next season despite the departure of JaJuan Johnson and E`Twaun Moore. Hummel can shoulder much of their scoring load while the rest can be distributed to talented players like Terone Johnson (a common whipping boy for some IU fans), Anthony Johnson, D.J. Byrd, Kelsey Barlow, and others.
Indiana is banking a lot on their 2012 class, but can they wait that long? Cody Zeller is expected to contribute immediately next season, but unless he comes in as a Jared Sullinger-like force it is hard to see the Hoosiers going from outhouse to penthouse immediately. By their own argument, some Indiana fans have stated that Purdue's "Baby Boilers" are the rare instant impact freshman class and that most schools have to develop players, but they are expecting the same for 2012.
I admit, I have a very Purdue-centric look at things, but Indiana fans can't be comfortable with things such as Crean whining on Twitter about a 36 hour turnaround when the Big Ten tournament can present as little as an 18-hour turnaround. They also have to be alarmed with the lack of defense and fundamentals from players that have been on the court for at least 50 collegiate games.
That is why it all comes back to the coaches. Matt Painter has proven he can recruit well and coach players to make an instant impact. In each of the last five seasons Purdue has seen at least one true freshman start multiple games. Purdue is on their way to their fifth straight NCAA Tournament as a result. While Crean's roster was devoid of talent when he started, it is there right now for his team to be NCAA-caliber. Still, Indiana struggles on the road, having won once on a true road court in the last three seasons. At some point that has to end.
Next season is a very big season for the rivalry. If Purdue continues its dominance and Indiana misses the postseason for a fourth straight season there will be even more questions in Bloomington, and that is the last thing the Hoosiers need. the pieces will be in place from a standpoint (and some would say are already there).
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