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Upper Hand: Indiana vs. Purdue

Who historically owns this head-to-head matchup?

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Indiana Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Upper Hand. Last week we looked at Wolverines vs. Spartans. This week, we journey one state south to what might be the most intense basketball rivalry in the conference, Indiana vs. Purdue.

As a reminder, here’s how this works:

  • Head-to-head results are the only thing that count
  • Wins are assumed to decay with a particular half-life as they get more distant
  • Reasonable people can disagree on what the correct half-life is, so I show several: 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, and 1000 years.
  • We also look retroactively to each of the past 50 years to see who would have held the upper hand at that point in time.
  • Margin of victory doesn’t matter, a W is a W

So let’s take a look at the chart for the Hoosiers and the Boilermakers:

Currently Purdue holds the undisputed Upper Hand, no matter which half-life you use. That isn’t particularly surprising, given that Purdue has won 6 of the last 7 and holds a 118-89 lead in the all-time standings. But there are some surprising results in here.

It’s no shock that IU looks really good using short half-lives in the second half of the 1970s. But in 1981, when they won a national championship, they only had the 5-year belt. And in 1987, when they won another national championship, Purdue had the undisputed upper hand! More evidence that Purdue fans will cling to head-to-head results while IU fans cling to their five big banners.

Purdue fans also like to cite their ownership of more conference titles than any other Big Ten school, but that also produces some counterintuitive results. Gene Keady’s Boilermakers won outright Big Ten titles in 1994, 1995, and 1996. Yet during 1994 and 1995, Indiana held the four short-term belts, and in 1996 they still held two. Purdue won another in 2010, when Indiana held four of five.

One of Indiana’s best recent years was 2008, when they held six belts. But at the end of 2008, the Hoosier program was at its lowest ebb in its history, with Kelvin Sampson fired in disgrace and one returning scholarship player for the next year. Even then, it took until the Baby Boilers’ senior year for IU’s dominance during the Early Painter era to wear off.

2008 and 2013 are the only years the Hoosiers have ever held six belts. That’s right, not once under Bob Knight did the Hoosiers ever look as good historically against Purdue as they did under Kelvin Sampson and then Tom Crean. Wow!

It’s interesting that IU’s win during the lone meeting in 2016 was enough to win them the 5-year and the 30-year belts, but not the 2-year belt. You’d expect the 2-year belt to change hands most often, but in this rivalry there’s more variance in the 5-year belt. I’ll be curious if that’s something we see more of as we look at more rivalries.


Indiana and Purdue will now meet at least twice every year going forward. How do you feel about that?

This poll is closed

  • 64%
    About time, Delany!
    (243 votes)
  • 12%
    Archie is going to own Purdue going forward
    (45 votes)
  • 22%
    IU will never win anything but the 2-year belt ever again
    (84 votes)
  • 0%
    Can you do one of these with MY school, please??
    (3 votes)
375 votes total Vote Now