INDIANAPOLIS — Since Indiana announced last week that its long-standing rivalry with Kentucky would not continue in the 2012-13 season, IU fans have wondered what big-name opponent the Hoosiers might contact to attempt to fill the void.
Tom Crean said Wednesday evening there might not be one.
The IU basketball coach was asked at a Tailgate Tour event at LucasOil Stadium if he believed it was necessary to add another marquee opponent to the schedule.
“No,” he said. “We have a very tough schedule right now as it is. It’s important that we look at what will fit for us this year and at the same time, because there’s not a Kentucky series right now, make some plans for the future.”
Two names had been floated as possible opponents — either for this season or future campaigns – in recent weeks. Kansas had been rumored as a possible Indiana replacement and Louisville coach Rick Pitino said publicly at the NCAA Tournament in Portland that he would be willing to play Indiana whenever Crean is prepared for such a series. Crean said last month that no progress had been made in discussions with Louisville, though he said such a series was possible in the future.
Pitino told the Louisville Courier-Journal this week that there was no possibility Louisville would play IU this year, and Crean said on Wednesday that he had no updates on potential opponents for this season or the future.
“I don’t really have an update on scheduling today,” Crean said. “I’m not going to speculate on who we might play down the road. We’ve got some hard games, very hard games that are already scheduled. I’m certain that we’ll get a very tough ACC opponent. We alwaysds have. It will be a little bit different this year, obviously. There’s a select few that we could end up getting at home, which will be a big-time home game, we know we go on the road for something next year. We just have to make sure that we schedule with that in mind. Not only schedule with this year in mind, but for the future.”
To Crean’s point, the Hoosiers are already scheduled to play in an exempt tournament called the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y. on Nov. 19-20 along with Georgetown, Georgia and UCLA. Georgetown was the only team of the three that made the NCAA Tournament last season, but UCLA put together one of the nation’s top recruiting classes with Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker, so the Bruins could easily make a leap.
The Hoosiers also have Butler in the Crossroads Classic, and as Crean mentioned, they will likely have an extremely difficult opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Crean speculated that it would likely be North Carolina or North Carolina State. Plus, the Big Ten is coming off a season in which it was the consensus top-rated conference in the country, so conference play will obviously do a lot to strengthen the schedule.
Still, there’s no Kentucky and there likely won’t be another game that approaches that magnitude. The defending national champion Wildcats lost all five of their starters and their top reserve to the NBA, but as usual they’ve reloaded with a top recruiting class and could very well be a top five team when the preseason rankings came out. After last season when the Hoosiers stunned the No. 1 Wildcats at home on Christian Watford’s buzzer-beater, then gave the Wildcats arguably their most challenging NCAA Tournament game in the Regional Semifinals in Atlanta, the 2012-13 regular season rematch was expected to be one of the most anticipated in the history of the series.
Negotiations broke down, however, because Kentucky and coach John Calipari said the Wildcats wanted to move the series from campus sites to neutral sites, presumably in Indianapolis and Louisville. There was precedent for that, as the IU-UK series was played in those cities from 1991-2005. However, Indiana athletic director Fred Glass said IU decided against it because they felt it would be cheating season-ticket holders and students. Crean added on Wednesday that the fact that the Hoosiers already have three neutral site games on the schedule for next year factored into the equation.
“Someone asked me, ‘Do you not want to have neutral sites?” Crean said. “I said, ‘Well, we have neutral sites.’ When the Crossroads Classic came in, that became something that’s gonna be locked in every year. Even though it’s in Indianapolis, it’s at a neutral site. It’s not a home site. You always want to have the ability to play in exempt tournaments. We’ve done that in the past. We have this year by playing in New York. There’s three right there.”
This year’s game was going to be at Rupp Arena anyway, so the Hoosiers would have likely benefitted this season at least in terms of making the site less hostile. But at the end of the day, Crean said they simply didn’t want to move away from the current format and were willing to let the series end and look elsewhere if need be.
“At the end of the day, it just became two different philosophies,” Crean said. “Two different view points. The bottom line is, when it comes to the history of the scheduling, the way I understand it is Kentucky had moved it back on campus anyways before we had come to Indiana and really we saw no reason to move it off. If it’s gonna move off, we didn’t wanna do it at this point. At the same time, we’ll look down the road to put somebody in a home and home situation with us at Indiana. If there’s not a Crossroads Classic, if there’s not exempt tournaments, maybe it’s easier to do. But that’s not the case. We’re always making sure we have enough games so you can schedule not only for this year but the years forward. … It wasn’t a complicated process.
Johnson “hasn’t been scarred”
One obvious knock against Indiana’s latest assistant coaching hire is his lack of experience. Kenny Johnson had spent several years as an assistant coach at the high school level, but just one in the college level. That was at Towson where the Tigers went 1-31 in their first year under coach Pat Skerry.
However, Crean suggested that Johnson’s lack of experience in the college game was actually a strength.
“One of the things that I’ve liked about Kenny as I’ve known him is that he hasn’t been scarred and tarred and feathered in this process,” Crean said. “He hasn’t been brought up in the sense of ‘This is how we’re gonna do it. I’ve worked for this guy, I’ve worked for that guy.’ I didn’t want to get somebody necessarily that had been around the block and I wasn’t hiring a stranger. I’m done with the stranger route. I’m done with the recommendation route. It’s gotta be someone that really fits what we’re trying to do. I’ve always had a lot of respect for Kenny.”
Crean pleased with teams academics
Crean pointed out on his Twitter account on Wednesday that the Hoosiers had seven players who had their best grade point averages in their IU careers this semester, which obviously coincided with their Sweet 16 run.
“I think when you look at how their lives have changed in the sense of the success that they’ve had on the court,” Crean said. “All the notoriety and accolades that come with a program like Indiana when you start to get it back up the way that they are, and to have seven guys have their highest GPA at their time at Indiana, I think that’s big time.”
The Hoosiers had seven players graduate last week. That included the five seniors, but also juniors Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston, who graduated in three years.
Crean was also asked, however about the academics of his five incoming freshmen and whether or not they have academically qualified.
“I don’t have an update on that today,” Crean said.