Tom Crean-led Indiana is still feeling the effects of losing its rivalry series with Kentucky. (AJ Mast/Icon SMI)
There was much sturm und drang last year when the Indiana-Kentucky rivalry series abruptly ended, with the two sides unable to come to an agreement on game locations. Tom Crean wanted the series to continue with (some) games in the teams' natural home venues while John Calipari wanted exclusively neutral-site games.
In the wake of the unresolved squabble, the Hoosiers were left with an unexpectedly light nonconference schedule last season, with highlights including neutral-site games with Georgetown (in Brooklyn) and Butler (in Indianapolis) along with an ACC-Big Ten Challenge home game with North Carolina. The rest of the slate was dreck, a series of noncompetitive guarantee home games unbefitting of the preseason No. 1 team and its loyal fan base.
Now, as first noted by Inside the Hall and then discussed on John Clay's blog on Wednesday, Tom Crean admits that Indiana still has failed to replace Kentucky on its schedule, and the situation now is impacting this coming season, as well.
“There’s no question that losing Kentucky screwed us up for the home-and-home situation,” Crean said. “But there’s things that could potentially be out there for the future that we can’t talk about publicly but we have to plan for privately."
With North Carolina relatively down last season, the Hoosiers didn't have a marquee game on the slate then, and it looks like they won't this season, either. The reports note that Crean told a booster gathering Tuesday night that Indiana tried to lock up a home-and-home series with Gonzaga, with this season being played at Assembly Hall, but no agreement was reached. Gonzaga already has non-conference road games in place for this coming season and didn't want to add another difficult one.
Most major-program coaches understand the overarching need to play almost exclusive at home in nonleague play (for the money, money and, oh yeah, the money, plus not losing ahead of conference play), but Crean is as open about the practice as you'll see.
"The last thing we wanna do is get caught in a situation where we’re trying to play too many non-conference road games.”
Right now, that posture is costing Indiana in scheduling. Crean's history suggests it won't be a problem for him to maintaining his posture, but as Indiana's coffers swell, its fans, and those nationally who want to watch the Hoosiers play, suffer. This is something that needs to find a better balance sooner rather than later.