Our friends at Crimson Quarry are good guys, even if they are IU fans. This week Ben Raphel contacted me for a Q&A in advance of the greatest rivalry known to mankind. Here is what Ben had to say, and my answers to his questions are over at CQ:
T-Mill: It's the Rivalry. Indiana vs. Purdue. Gene vs. Bobby. Banners vs. ... well, choking in the NCAAs. It hasn't quite been the same as the height of the Gene vs. Bobby era, but the hate is still there. Are we closer now to getting this thing back where it should be?
Ben: I think it's getting there, but both programs need to re-establish themselves as being successful for a sustained period of time. Frankly, I'm all for good basketball in the state of Indiana, and so both teams succeeding at the same time is what this rivalry needs most, and the only season in recent memory where it's been at that level was 2011-12. Unfortunately, I see conference expansion as watering down this rivalry as well, since the two teams will not play twice a year as much as they used to.
What I do like about the rivarly is that at least from what I've experienced on the IU side of it, there is a friendly, congenial nature to all of it. We'll obviously root to win big against you guys, make fun of West Lafayette, and laugh whenever we see some ridiculous marketing ploy like P on Your Phone, but on the whole I think we respect Purdue as a school, and it's impossible not to live in Indiana and have friends who aren't alums of either university. My grad program at IU had several Purdue alums in it as well. It all adds to a fun rivalry that isn't as mean-spirited as other big college rivalries in the country (looking at you, state of Texas).
One funny anecdote: I was a flower shop in Bloomington on Valentine's Day last year, which was the day before the IU-Purdue game, and this woman who worked there was wearing a Purdue sweatshirt. I commented that she was brave to wear that sweatshirt in Bloomington, and she responded right back, "Well we're gonna win big tomorrow!" She was right.
T-Mill: What do you think of the job Tom Crean has done, turning this team from one that lost to Eastern Washington to one that is near the top of the Big Ten. What is the biggest thing he has done?
Ben: Luckily, EWU is not as bad of a loss as we originally thought. They're 123rd on Kenpom and about 60 places higher than anyone else in the Big Sky Conference - plus they're projected as a 12 or 13 seed on most Bracketology sites - so it won't hurt us too much in the long run. Despite this, IU still should never have lost to them at home, but at least this type of loss was a common occurrence around the B1G this season.
The reason that this team is 15-5 right now and 5-2 in the B1G is that Crean has done well with the personnel he has, and is letting his players play their type of small-ball game instead of trying to fit square pegs into round holes. Crean knows this team's strength, and that's its shooting, so he's gone to great lengths to make sure that the Hoosiers are spacing themselves out well and constantly getting open looks from all sides of the court. When this team is on its game, it can be one of the most fun teams in the country to watch. I still question some of Crean's in-game decisions or adjustments, but given all the off-court issues and the sturm und drang surrounding Crean's job status, he's done a very good job thus far.
T-Mill: James Blackmon and Kevin Ferrell are playing at an extremely high level. Do they go pro after this year?
Ben: I don't see either of those guys leaving. Right now Yogi is projected by Draft Express to go 35th in the NBA Draft, but with good point guards being a dime a dozen in the pros, I can't see Yogi leaving early unless he climbs up the draft board significantly. Blackmon needs to round out his game some, especially on the defensive end of the ball, before going pro. I do think he will eventually leave early, but he's not as NBA-ready right now as D'Angelo Russell on OSU.
Our biggest threat to leave right now, actually, might be Troy Williams. Troy has drawn comparisons to Victor Oladipo with his flashy style of play and ability to grab rebounds and attack the rim. He might not be as good of a defender as Oladipo was, but I think he has the best ability of anyone on this team to make an impact in the pros, and I wouldn't be surprised or upset if he decided to bolt so long as this season keeps going well for him.
T-Mill: Indiana has what appears to be a huge advantage on the perimeter and three-point shooting. What happens if the shots aren't falling?
Ben: See: Michigan State, January 5th. Our game in East Lansing was disastrous, as everyone on the Hoosiers had an off-night shooting and we got run out of the Breslin Center, losing 70-50. But other games, when the shots aren't falling, the Hoosiers have proven that they just need to be patient with their shot selection and not get too antsy, and eventually buckets will start to fall. This is exactly what happened in both the first OSU game and the win over Illinois.
T-Mill: Conversely, Purdue should be able to feed A.J. Hammons and Isaac Haas all day. What is the plan to slow them down?
Ben: The Hoosiers created a ton of open lanes to the rim for the Buckeyes on Sunday, so they will need to perform much better in attempting to protect the paint. IU will need Collin Hartman to show the defensive tenacity that he had in the Maryland win, and will need freshman Emmitt Holt not to be rattled by what should be a raucous and sold-out Mackey crowd. However, despite the lack of size, I think the Hoosiers have done admirably so far against big men (other than Georgetown's Josh Smith). In fact, Ohio State beat us on Sunday in part because they went to a smaller lineup and benched Amir Williams. We also held Nnanna Egwu scoreless and he fouled out against us. So I won't be shocked if there are times when we don't see either big man on the floor for Purdue on Wednesday.
T-Mill: Do you see IU staying in the Big Ten race or does it cool off a bit and coast into the NCAAs?
Ben: If we had beaten OSU on the road, I think Hoosier fans would have started to make some noise about a second B1G title in three years. However, right now the B1G title is Wisconsin's to lose. The Hoosiers are in the middle of what might be their toughest stretch of the season right now. However, after the Maryland rematch in College Park on Feb. 11, the schedule cools down a bit. If we're 7-5 by that point, I think we will be in good shape for 11-12 conference victories and a double-bye into the quarterfinals of the B1G tournament.
T-Mill: This is the longest we have been without the Bucket in two decades. Is it safe? Does it have Stockholm Syndrome? What did poor Zander do to it at the beach? It still isn't over what Corso did.
Ben: The bucket seems to be having a grand old time, from all accounts, and I think it enjoyed seeing the warm SoCal weather that it doesn't normally get to see during Indiana winters. But really, I am all for Zander treating the Bucket like it's the Stanley Cup. After all, he did score the game-winning touchdown and will go back to the bench next season when Nate Sudfeld returns from injury, so why not let him celebrate? However, if Zander improves his football acumen, I could see him potentially starting as a redshirt sophomore in 2016.
T-Mill: I know you're an advocate for expanding the Crossroads Classic. Do you ever see schools like Indiana State, Valpo, Evansville, and Ball State getting in?
Ben: I wouldn't mind seeing the Crossroads Classic expand into a three-day, eight-team event - it would be a great way to raise the profile of basketball in Indiana - but I don't think that could be a yearly occurrence, since it would prohibit the ability of schools in the state to go to other preseason three-day tournaments (i.e. Maui and Atlantis). Ultimately, I think the Hoosiers need to prioritize getting more teams from the region onto their nonconference schedule. Purdue does it. Our women's team does it. I get bringing Texas Southern here because of Mike Davis, but why does IU schedule schools like Mississippi Valley State and Grand Canyon when schools like IUPUI and IPFW are nearby and would provide in-state kids a chance to play in the hallowed Assembly Hall?
T-Mill: In terms of AD's, Fred Glass seems to be outperforming Morgan Burke in terms of marketing and getting more butts in the seats. IU has a natural advantage in basketball fan base, but what are some things IU does that Purdue doesn't to raise the department profile as a whole?
Ben: Like Burke, Fred Glass is the AD of his alma mater. I'd say Glass's approach is to be very respectful of the traditions that made IU a household name while also putting his own spin on things. Obviously, the Assembly Hall experience is still one-of-a-kind, and fortunately Glass hasn't added too many bells and whistles to that, unlike what Dave Brandon tried to do up at Michigan. However, for football games, Glass has really made a focus on getting butts into the seats. Already IU has ready-made tailgate fields right across 17th Street from Memorial Stadium, but Glass's penchant for pyrotechnics, as well as the kid-friendly Knothole Park, have gotten people, especially young families, to start coming into the games themselves. In addition, Glass's coaching hires have been solid and all of his high-profile coaching hires have brought a ton of energy to their sport. New baseball coach Chris Lemonis should be able to jump in right where Tracy Smith left off, new women's hoops coach Teri Moren will get to work with an up-and-coming group of underclassmen, and soccer coach Todd Yeagley won IU's 8th national title in the sport in 2012. Thus, Glass has really focused on raising the profiles of the other sports in Bloomington, and to top it all off, IU is attempting to get at least one million fans to attend athletic events this year. Thus, I'm a fan of what Glass is doing, and I think he has a more holistic and realistic view about the realities of college athletics right now than Burke does. Finally, IU president Michael McRobbie seems to take a more hands-off approach towards athletics than does Mitch Daniels, from what I can gather.
T-Mill: Finally, a prediction for Wednesday?
Ben: I've been on the record since before the season that the IU-Purdue games will play out in a strange way, as we'll win at Purdue but lose at home. I think if anything else, Yogi still has the memory of IU losing at Purdue last season fresh in his mind, so if all else fails he will be pushing for some revenge. As a result, I like us to win in Mackey on Wednesday, 83-76, as IU's hot shooting is too much for Purdue's perimeter defense to contain, and Troy Williams will have a nice bounceback after a tough outing against OSU.