Purdue and Indiana are only scheduled to meet once on the basketball floor this year. Yes, they could meet at the Big Ten Tournament in Indianapolis, but that has only happened once, at the inaugural event in 1998. Since both are in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings a meeting in Indianapolis seems unlikely.
Growing up, every Indiana-Purdue game was a war. It was Gene Keady vs. Bobby Knight. In 1987 Indiana won a national championship and the next year Purdue was on its way to one before choking in the Sweet 16 vs. Kansas State (and yes, it was a choke). As a Purdue kid, I always felt I was in the minority of the rivalry, but every game mattered. It was one of the best rivalries in college basketball because you were on one side or the other in this state.
The rivalry has faded a bit. For about 10 years now when Purdue has been up Indiana has been down and vice versa. That wasn't more apparent than last year, when Indiana delivered an unmerciful beating in Mackey Arena 97-60. That serves as the worst home loss in Purdue basketball history. As someone who was there, it felt like it, too.
But it really shouldn't be that way. Tom Crean and Matt Painter should be Keady vs. Knight 2.0. Both are well compensated and have had promising teams that have made noise nationally, but both also may have peaked already.
During the 2013-14 season both teams are underperforming. Both teams lost three non-conference games, and all three were their best chances to make some noise outside the Big Ten. Within the conference both teams are struggling. Both have lost to Northwestern. Indiana lost at Nebraska while Purdue lost at Penn State. Indiana has some nice wins over Michigan and Wisconsin at home, but are a combined 8-14 in the league. If the tourney began today, both would be out, and Indiana is the only one of the pair with a realistic chance of climbing into tournament consideration.
Both teams should be far, far better, however. Each team had two straight nationally rated recruiting classes and both have nationally rated classes lined up for next year. It is not a question of talent. Here is what Purdue's recent recruiting has looked like:
|Purdue Basketball Recruiting||National Class Rank|
|Anthony Johnson||4-star||3-star||3-star||Transferred to N. Illinois after 3 years, 1 a redshirt
|2011||Donnie Hale||3-star||3-star||3-star||Transferred to Bellarmine after 2 years, 1 a redshirt
|Jacob Lawson||3-star||3-star||3-star||Transferred to App. State after 2 years|
|Errick Peck||NR||NR||2-star||1-year grad transfer from Cornell|
|Sterling Carter||NR||NR||NR||1-year grad transfer from Seattle|
And here is Indiana's:
|Indiana Basketball Recruiting||National Class Rank|
|2010||Guy Marc-Michal||NR||NR||2-star||declared ineligible by NCAA, never played||NR||NR||NR|
|Victor Oladipo||3-star||3-star||3-star||left after 2013, No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick|
|2011||Remy Abell||3-star||2-star||3-star||transferred to Xavier after 2 years||27||NR||NR|
|Cody Zeller||5-star||5-star||5-star||left after 2013, No. 4 overall NBA Draft pick|
|Ron Patterson||3-star||3-star||3-star||declared ineligible, signed with Syracuse|
|Evan Gordon||3-star||NR||2-star||1-year grad transfer from Arizona State|
Each team has had a top 20 recruiting class by at least one service for two straight seasons. While there are always a handful of NBA one-and-dones out there, most teams need to develop talent once they get it. Both teams have lost a lot in recent years, but both have reloaded to the point that making the NCAA Tournament should not be difficult.
On its current roster Purdue has nine players that were rated as a 4-star or better talent by at least one service. This is generally reserved for a top 100 national player, and they make up nine of the current 11 scholarship players. Nest year Purdue will have nine as well (Edwards and Haas replace TJ and Carroll).For Indiana, there are currently seven four-star or better players, with five-stars Noah Vonleh and Kevin Ferrell as five-star talents (generally the top 25) for the Hoosiers. Next year They will add two, but may lose one in Vonleh.
It is not a question of recruiting. Both coaches have been at their respective schools for awhile and have delivered multiple top 25 recruiting classes. It has paid off in one Big Ten championship and two Sweet 16 appearances for each.
So what is wrong? That is the question fans of both programs are asking. With top 25 recruiting classes you expect to be a top 25 program, especially when one of those classes for each school is late in its second year and should be blossoming. Instead, both teams are plagued by inconsistent play and underperforming talent.
As I am writing this I just watched the end of Indiana's loss to Penn State. From that, it is apparent that a major problem both teams have is that they cannot get a critical stop defensively when they need it. Also, based on Indiana's collapse against Penn State and Purdue falling apart at Ohio State, both teams have a terrible tendency to come completely unraveled with one thing going wrong.
For Purdue, it was a questionable charge on A.J. Hammons against Aaron Craft as the boilers were almost back in the game against Ohio State. For Indiana, they somehow blew a 12 point lead, at home, with three and a half minutes left. Both teams also have a fatal flaw. Indiana turns the ball over with reckless abandon, while Purdue can't hit a free throw to save its life.
It is amazing to see how similar these teams are. Both teams lack a consistent go-to guy and don't have much senior leadership. Both have dominant post players that sometimes don't get nearly enough touches. Both have point guards that played HS basketball less than two miles apart that can keep you in a game or play you out of one.
Finally, both have coaches that will really feel it next season if things do not drastically improve. For each, the talent will be there as another top 25 class is coming for both. Indiana might lose Vonleh to the NBA, but they are getting an excellent shooter in James Blackmon that can thrive should Vonleh stay. Purdue also has a solid shooter coming in Dakota Mathias and another big man with a lot of talent inside.
Talent will not be a question for either next season. Making the NCAA Tournament should not have been a challenge for either this year, but with three consecutive years of top 25 recruiting classes the 2014-15 season should be a top 25 season for both teams because at some point that talent must perform. Yes, they are young, but at some point youth goes away and should be experience.
Tom Crean and Matt Painter won't be going anywhere after this season. Their athletic departments have too much invested in them and honestly, they have earned some time for fans to be patient if they step back from the ledge. If next year is not far better for either, however, the heat will be turned up. Purdue cannot afford three straight NCAA-less seasons when Painter has been reeling in solid class after solid class, and Crean, who is recruiting better than Painter, certainly can't miss the tournament again at a school where Final Fours are still expected at least once every five years. Of either team misses the tournament next season that coach should be on the hot seat because with the talent there, the only constant is the coaching if it keeps coming up short.