The Big Ten is filled with historic and important basketball rivalries, but none of the others measure up to the one in the Hoosier State (or the Boilermaker State if you prefer). Last season was forgettable for both teams, but you can bet neither fan base will ever forget the shellacking Purdue gave the Hoosiers in West Lafayette (nor the beatings IU gave out the year before).
There are so many great games, stories and larger-than-life characters involved in this rivalry over the years that someone could write a whole series of books. In 1901, Purdue won the first meeting 20-15 in Bloomington, and no one involved could have imagined it would eventually lead to fist fights and thrown furniture. Purdue leads the series 113-88 and dominated much of the early history of the rivalry thanks to coaches like "Piggy" Lambert and players like "Stretch" Murphy and some kid named John Wooden. Indiana found a great coach of their own in Branch McCracken and scored a NCAA Championship in 1940 (despite Purdue winning the Big Ten that season). Although, the real glory years of the rivalry came with Gene Keady and one Robert Montgomery Knight coaching against each other.
With dueling tempers and coaching expertise, Knight and Keady formed a coaching rivalry that exacerbated the already passionate school rivalry. The coaching greats led talented teams into battle year after year. Teams that included guys like Isiah Thomas, Glenn Robinson, Damon Bailey, Brian Cardinal, AJ Guyton, and Brad Miller. A few of those players have even gone on to coaching careers of their own, like Steve Alford and Cuonzo Martin.
Indiana-Purdue Recent Years
Matt Painter and Tom Crean have both had up and down seasons with their respective teams, leading to less than competitive match-ups in recent meetings. The battles since Crean's arrival have been uninteresting for the most part. While IU recovered from sanctions, Purdue had a trio of 1,000 point scorers and some of the best teams in their history. After the Baby Boilers had grown up and left, the Hoosiers had become a dominant team in their own right.
If only the Cody Zeller era had overlapped with the JaJuan Johnson era, we might have seen some down to the wire contests. Last season it seemed like the two struggling Indiana schools might be destined for a slug-fest, but the Hoosiers had their worst half of the season in West Lafayette and Purdue and Painter were able to get their revenge for the previous season. Now, after extremely disappointing seasons, both teams are pushing to return to the top of the conference with strong recruiting classes.
Tom Crean can recruit, there is no denying that, and this year is no different. 5-star guard James Blackmon comes in this season along with 4-star guard Robert Johnson and 3 other players including two hastily recruited centers. Also coming in this season is transfer Nick Zeisloft, a shooter who was intelligent enough to graduate in only three years at Illinois State. BTP's Scott Manning has also written about a potential final 2014 recruit and 6'9" forward who is visiting IU later this month.
For the upcoming season, Purdue's Matt Painter has managed to sign a complete starting lineup of youngsters. At center, 4-star 7-footer Issac Haas, along with power forward Jacquil Taylor, 4-star small forward Vincent Edwards, shooting guard Dakota Mathias and PJ Thompson at the point. SBNation site Hammer and Rails has a good review of each recruit's potential here.
2015 recruiting is already in full swing as well, but IU has yet to sign anyone and Purdue's two signees are not above 3-star level on any site. So I will withhold judgement for now.
The rivalry is in solid shape, and it always will be. Bad seasons will never extinguish the fire between these two fan bases and their teams, but it is important that these storied programs return to prominence. Otherwise, the basketball series might wind up like the football series: an intense rivalry, but one largely ignored, even inside their own conference.
For this upcoming season, the strength of the rivalry (much like everything else for these teams next season) will depend on how well the freshmen perform and what kind of energy they bring into their respective locker rooms. Both teams lacked an emotional and an actual leader last season, no one ever stepped up and challenged their team to give it their all every game. Without players like that on both sides, a rivalry loses a step and that is something neither side wants to see happen.
This rivalry is important to me, the Big Ten and college basketball.
It needs to stay great and I have confidence it always will.