Tomorrow I'll take a look at this year's Wildcats, but first, let's take a look at the history of this rivalry. While talking heads often argue about a top 5, top 3, top 20 of historically elite basketball programs, the consensus usually emerges that these programs are the top six, in no particular order: Duke, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, Kansas, and UCLA. Other than Duke and UNC, none of these schools are closer together than IU and UK, and other than Duke and UNC, none other than IU and UK can be described as rivals.
Although IU-Kentucky seems like a natural rivalry based on geography and prestige, IU and Kentucky haven't played each other all that often, much like Notre Dame and Michigan in football. Before 1971-72, Bob Knight's first year at IU, the two schools played only ten times. In the 37 season seasons since, IU and Kentucky have played once in each regular season and three times in the NCAA Tournament. Last year's game in Lexington was the 50th IU-Kentucky game, and UK now leads the series 28-22, thanks to a 13-3 advantage from 1991 to present.
This rivalry has transpired mostly on neutral courts. Only 23 of the 50 meetings have been in Bloomington or Lexington: the other 27 games have been at sites other than the home court of either school. Last year's game in Lexington was the first at Rupp since December 1988, and Saturday's game in Bloomington will be the first at Assembly Hall since December 1990. Some sort of scheduling mixup with Freedom Hall resulted in moving last year's game to Rupp, and IU justifiably moved this year's game to Bloomington. It is unclear where next year's game will be, per the Louisville Courier-Journal:
Next week UK plays Indiana in Bloomington, Ind., the completion of a two-year home-and-home series that broke from the traditional Louisville-Indianapolis rotation. That series was moved to home-court settings because UK couldn't get a date at Freedom Hall last season. It's uncertain where the games will be played the next two years, Mullens said. UK and IU are weighing the pros and cons of neutral and campus sites. The difficulty in making a long-term decision, Mullens said, is that Freedom Hall won't guarantee a date more than a year in advance, making it hard for UK to plan for future games there. "People loved (the UK-IU series) in Louisville and Indianapolis, but people have loved the idea of playing it at two traditional basketball schools," Mullens said. "The downside is, they get about 150 tickets when they play (in Lexington) and we get about 150 tickets when we play (in Bloomington), so it's not quite the same atmosphere."
I hope that schools do return to the neutral site arrangement. The 50/50 ticket split between the schools creates a NCAA Tournament-like atmosphere early in the season, and when the game is played in Indianapolis (at the RCA Dome in the past, but at Lucas Oil Stadium if the neutral site arrangement resumes in the future) the size of the facility allows rank-and-file fans of both schools to buy tickets for a game against a top-tier opponent.
In any event, here are some of the more memorable games in the series in recent years, good and bad:
- December 10, 2005, RCA Dome: Indiana 79, Kentucky 53. IU won by 26, IU's largest margin of victory in the series, and beat the Wildcats for the first time in six years. Mike Davis, the Kentucky-hating former Alabama player, got his first win over UK. Another SEC grudge-holder, Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth, let the way for IU with 23 points (7-8 from the field) and 11 rebounds.
- December 21, 2002, Freedom Hall: Kentucky 70, Indiana 64: It's not an exaggeration to say that the Mike Davis era never was the same after this game. IU, which had advanced to the NCAA title game the previous season, entered the game 8-0 and ranked #6 nationally. Davis had edged his career record up to 54-25 (.683). With IU trailing by one late in the game, IU's Bracey Wright missed a layup in traffic, and Davis lost it. He ran onto the court slapping his head, was assessed two technical fouls and ejected from the game, and IU limped home, going 13-13 after the 8-0 start.
- December 4, 1999, RCA Dome: Indiana 83, Kentucky 75. IU's first win over Kentucky in six years. AJ Guyton led the way with 21 points on 4-6 three point shooting.
- December 7, 1996, Freedom Hall: Kentucky 99, Indiana 65. The defending NCAA Champions administered the worst beatdown by either team in the history of the series [EDIT: second worst. I somehow managed to block the memory of the 80-41 loss in December 2003]. This season began with great promise for the Hoosiers after two down years, and IU entered this game 6-0 and ranked #8. In the final of the Preseason NIT, IU beat Duke 85-69 and Andrae Patterson scored 39 points. Patterson would never do anything of the sort again, and this inconsistent team finished 21-11 (9-9). This season really began the decline of IU fans' support of Knight, and the UK game, other than the blowout loss to Colorado in the NCAA Tournament, probably was the worst moment.
- December 4, 1993, Hoosier Dome: Indiana 96, Kentucky 84. IU lost the opener to Butler, but rebounded nicely by upsetting #1 ranked Kentucky. Damon Bailey played his finest game has a Hoosier, scoring 29 points, including 16-19 from the line.
- March 22, 1975, Dayton: Kentucky 92, Indiana 90. This one doesn't qualify as recent, but is infamous enough to warrant mention. While this game was before my time, nearly every Hoosier fan old enough to remember this game seems to consider it the most gut-punchingly awful loss in IU history. IU was undefeated and ranked #1, but was without an effective Scott May, who broke his arm in the regular season finale against Purdue. May played seven minutes against Kentucky (scoring two points on 1-4 shooting), but the Wildcats edged the Hoosiers in the regional final.