This is Hate Week. Purdue fans and players become no more hostile than when the Hoosiers come to town. It's just the way it is. I've lived this rivalry going on five years now, and from my perspective, I couldn't have had it any better. There is a certain competitiveness that is required for two schools to have a rivalry; something one-sided is simply a domination and isn't really any entertaining. I've seen IU be fairly competitive. Of course they've taken more games than my Purdue heart wants, but my sports fan mind tells me that they've taken enough to keep it interesting during my tenure, and the two have happily met in the middle.
There are those in the realm of sports media (coughColinCowherdcough) that would do some disservice to the rivalry we have in this great state. Some would say "Purdue against Indiana? Why would I watch that when I could watch the Red River Rivalry, or Syracuse against Villanova?" There's an insinuation that these schools have second-rate athletic programs and reside in a sub-par conference. This may be true of football of late, but this is Indiana: basketball is king.
Tuesday night's game is the culmination of the Big10 season up to this point for both teams. Indiana has scared a couple quality teams and gotten away with wins against teams they certainly were not expected to beat.. and that's putting it lightly. Purdue is having up and down weeks, and needs a win to even remotely stay in the Big10 race. However, beyond the implications of record, there is pride to be won.
Purdue has revenge to take. Indiana came to West Lafayette and won the Old Oaken Bucket for their first road victory in the series since 1996. I'm not even sure His Accuracy Drew Brees was even in high school at that point. It could be said that it was only a matter of time that they'd come take it back, but I am over that. I want revenge, because I don't like the bitter taste I have in my mouth from that game.
I'm not only trying to relish in the revenge over the football game, however. Indiana basketball fans are arrogant. It's just the way it is. They're the same as Notre Dame or Ohio State football fans. "Oh, their record is under .750? Fire the coach. Get him out." They accept nothing less than a championship in something every season (though I don't know if the NIT counts, you'd have to ask them). However, they haven't really had a choice of coaches lately, have they? Their program is toxic, rife with recent scandal and poor press - who would want to coach there?
Oh, right. Tom Crean.
You know, I'd love for Tom Crean to turn this basketball program around. He made a promise to put the team in a position of relevance at least in the Big10 within two years. We're three years in with this guy, and his conference record (5-31) is worse than the football team's under Bill Lynch (6-26). The only time he's brought relevance to a program as a head coach was at Marquette, where he had recruited now-NBA-All Star Dwyane Wade. In the two years following Wade's departure, Marquette had issues advancing in the NIT Tournament. To his credit, Crean led his team through the Big East Schedule each of the next 3 years, being outed of the NCAA tournament in either the first or second rounds each year.
That brings us to this team. They're not very good. They have four
and five star recruits on their roster that are either hurt or under-perform. You can tell Crean coached in the BigEast, because their defense can be characterized most nights by the word "abysmal." Derek Elston even feels the need to trip players on inbounds passes. Is there improvement? Sure. But at the rate they're improving, regardless of incoming recruits, it will be another 5 years before they are relevant. Tom Crean is a great recruiter, but an average basketball coach.
Then again, maybe that shouldn't even matter to me. I'll graduate in May, ship off to some foreign place, and the best coverage I'll be able to get is Big10 Network, ESPN3, or big matchups on national networks. It's not nearly the live-and-die by the success of the team that I'm currently in. This is the end of a chapter in my life, and tomorrow night is a cornerstone, an earmark for that. It's the last time two all-time Purdue greats will play against IU at home.
I do my best not to make predictions, I'm a fairly superstitious guy when it comes to sports. However, I would be lying if I told you I didn't like our chances tomorrow night. Hell, I'd be lying if I told you I didn't like our chances next year. This will be my last game in Mackey watching Purdue play against IU as a student, and I want a show.
Well, okay, maybe not that kind of show.