Why? Because unlike rivalries that are sport-specific rivalries, Purdue-Indiana is a fierce, heated rivalry whether the schools are squaring off on the hardwood, for the Old Oaken Bucket or any Olympic sport for that matter.
There just isn’t a rivalry out there as intense as this one and one that is just as heated now as it was decades ago. This rivalry divides the basketball-crazed state of Indiana as well as families, and pits some of the most talented former instate high school basketball players against one another.
It’s Gene Keady. It’s Bob Knight. It’s Glenn Robinson. It’s Isiah Thomas. It’s Mackey Arena. It’s Assembly Hall. It’s Black and Gold. It’s Cream and Crimson.
If you cheer for Indiana, your two favorite teams are the Hoosiers and whoever plays Purdue. If you cheer for the Boilermakers, your favorite teams are Matt Painter’s and whoever is facing IU. It’s just that simple.
Purdue fans brag about their football dominance over Indiana and point out their beloved school has more Big Ten championships in basketball (22) than any other school, including their rival from the south (20). IU fans remind Boilermaker faithful that they have five NCAA Championship banners hanging in the rafters of Assembly Hall.
It pains Purdue followers to know they haven’t seen their team in a Final Four since 1980. The Boilermakers have had some very good teams, but their 1988 team couldn’t get to the promise land, neither could the 1994 team or their most recent teams led by Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson.
Purdue’s basketball tradition is rich. It boasts three-time All-American John Wooden, who led the Boilermakers to a 1932 Helms national championship. Purdue probably would’ve won the NCAA championship in 1969 had it not been for some guy named Lew Alcindor and his UCLA Bruins. Instead, the Boilermakers had to settle for a national runner-up finish.
As for Indiana, it hopes its NCAA title drought ends this season. The Hoosiers last won it all in 1987 although they did lose to Maryland in the 2002 national championship tilt.
Purists say the Indiana-Purdue rivalry hasn’t been the same since Knight and Keady were roaming the sidelines and believe it never will be. There’s no questioning the rivalry took a hit when Keady and Knight departed – both teams have only been ranked once when they’ve met since 2000 – but it’s coming back.
Soon, perhaps even next season, the two programs should both be mainstays in the top-25 polls.
Currently IU’s 18-2 team is third in the polls, while 11-9 Purdue is unranked and its consecutive NCAA Tournament streak of six is in serious jeopardy. There’s no question the Boilermakers are reloading after enjoying some of their most successful periods from 2008-11.
Purdue’s future, though, looks very bright.
Next season nearly everyone returns, including 7-footer A.J. Hammons, so the Boilermakers should contend for the Big Ten championship. As for the present, come Wednesday night, Purdue will try and spoil IU’s quest for a regular-season Big Ten title as the Boilermakers and Hoosiers renew their storied rivalry for the 199th time.
Mackey Arena, the home of the Boilermakers and one of the loudest venues in all of college basketball, will be deafening.
The Paint Crew will greet those clad in Cream and Crimson with many pleasantries, knowing that their beloved Boilermakers have gotten the better of the Hoosiers recently, winning six of the last 10 meetings. Beating IU is nothing knew for Purdue. In fact, it leads the all-time series 112-86.
But this is supposed to be IU’s year so it’s favored to beat Purdue for the third time in a row. This, too, is Indiana-Purdue. You never quite know what to expect when these two long-time rivals meet. The Boilermakers have upset the Hoosiers in the past when they’ve been unranked and IU has been highly ranked, especially in Mackey.
Regardless of what happens tomorrow night on Keady Court, the sellout crowd of more than 14,000 will treasure seeing one of college athletics’ best rivalries.
And if you’ve never been to an Indiana-Purdue basketball game, put it at the top of your to-do list. You’ll remember it forever.
Doug Griffiths is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the US Basketball Writers Association. Doug is a columnist/writer for RantSports. Follow him on Twitter @ISLgriffiths and Facebook.