We mentioned this a while back on HoopsHD, but it’s apparently official now, as ESPN is reporting that Indiana and Kentucky are halting their long-standing series due to an inability to determine game site locations. Eamonn Brennan has already gone to Defcon 2 over this, calling the ending of the series “ridiculous” and engaging in some righteous thrashing of Crean and Calipari over the impasse.
I understand Brennan’s take on this, but he really needs to calm down a bit. It doesn’t surprise me at all that we find ourselves at this juncture with this series, and anyone who was paying attention in the last 6 months has seen that we were headed this way. From Calipari’s original groundwork-laying comments back in December to the lack of NBA defections on the IU squad, this was almost a pre-ordained outcome.
From Kentucky’s perspective, they cannot be 100% sure what sort of team they’ll have next year. Unquestionably they’ll be talented, but the chances of Calipari meshing this group together in the same way he meshed last year’s national champs are very low. They absolutely can’t afford to take Louisville off the schedule, especially in the aftermath of a Final Four victory and the Cardinals being projected as a top-5 team next year. By dropping both Indiana and North Carolina off the schedule, Kentucky gives itself a lot of time to figure out who they are and what they can do as a team. Their SOS may suffer a bit, but their ranking should stay consistently high.
As for Indiana, it is a shame that they won’t get a chance to take this year’s squad into Rupp Arena, in what would’ve likely been a fascinating look at a young but talented team trying to win in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball. But like Kentucky, the Hoosiers are going to need some early-season reps to figure out how to mesh their existing pieces with talented freshmen like Yogi Ferrell and Jeremy Hollowell. The neutral court games that Indiana will get in the Brooklyn tournament (against Georgetown, UCLA, and/or Georgia) should do more than enough to give IU a taste of life away from Assembly Hall.
As for the idea that IU and Kentucky need to “grow up” and fix things…come on now. Who, exactly, should “grow up”? Should IU say “Yeah, sure, we’ll give up the financial and basketball benefits of playing a home game against Kentucky every two years just because that’s what Kentucky wants”? It does seem that UK is being a bit cynical in pushing for this neutral site game series, but they are well within their right to do so. As we mentioned last month, it does seem that UK pushed for the neutral site venues knowing full well that IU would never agree to the terms. And again, I don’t blame UK for that — they will have a young and inexperienced team, and probably would struggle against an IU squad that’s bringing everyone back. It’s hardly a petulant decision — it’s a basketball decision. And a financial one. Believe it or not, those things can and do take place in college sports all the time. It’s not always as simple as one side or the other taking their ball and going home.
Fear not, these two teams will play again soon, maybe as early as 2014-15. And I wouldn’t be at all shocked to see them play next year anyway, in the NCAA tournament.
UPDATE: According to Andy Katz, Kentucky offered to play the series solely in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. That revelation does nothing to change my thought process above. In case you haven’t noticed, Lucas Oil Stadium in basketball configuration is nothing like Assembly Hall, and Bloomington is a completely different community from Indianapolis. From a crowd standpoint and a buzz standpoint, the biennial IU-UK game is the single biggest event in Bloomington. That’s not something to easily surrender, and in fact local businesses have gotten irritated about IU athletics surrendering far less high-profile events (such as the IU-Penn State football games in 2000 and 2010). And lest you think UK was being gracious by not offering a return “neutral” game in Louisville, there’s the little matter of Kentucky not being allowed to play anyone but Louisville in the Yum Center.