BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – This is the story of John Wooden and George Levis, one basketball name that you know, and another that you don't. But their ghosts were hovering above the cardboard cutouts at Assembly Hall Thursday night, and they help us tell the story of the Purdue-Indiana basketball rivalry.
Rivalry? Can we still use that word?
Just for a moment, let's stay in present time. Purdue, as you know, beat Indiana 81-69 Thursday. It was the eighth straight victory for the Boilermakers in the in-state showdown, and it's been 1,790 days since Indiana last won in this series on Feb. 20, 2016. That's 1,790 and counting now.
It's the longest winning streak in the rivalry dating all the way back to 1929-35, when Purdue won nine in a row during much of the John Wooden era. Wooden, who would later win 10 national championships as a coach at UCLA, was a great player at Purdue too, and the Martinsville, Ind., native was a big part of that long winning streak.
It's also the fifth straight time that Purdue has won at Assembly Hall, becoming just the second opponent ever to win five in a row in the iconic building (Wisconsin 2008-13).
What makes it even worse is that it's not like Purdue has come to Bloomington with a roster full of first-round draft picks every year. Quite frankly, it's the Hoosiers who have had better rosters the past few years, or so you'd think.
Point spreads don't have anything to do with college basketball other than giving the degenerates a number to shoot at. But in these rivalry games, it shows a disturbing trend.
Thursday night, Indiana was a four-point favorite ... and lost. A year ago, it was the same thing. The Hoosiers were favored by four points in the most electric building I've ever been in because of Bob Knight's return ... and lost by 12 in a ridiculously uninspiring performance. There were Indiana losses at home in 2019, 2018 and 2017, too, in toss-up games.
It's been bad enough to lose, but how they have lost has been mind-numbing. It just seems like Purdue wanted it more, and that's disgusting. Indiana has played poorly at the most important time. It's Purdue, for Pete's sake.
Indiana coach Archie Miller has lost the last four of those home games in this rivalry. And counting two other losses at West Lafayette, Miller is now 0-6 against Purdue.
Which brings us to your Indiana basketball history lesson.
A century of success
Tom Crean could beat Purdue, not often enough, of course, but he did it five times actually. So did Kelvin Sampson and Mike Davis. Bob Knight won a bunch, of course, as did Lou Watson and Branch McCracken and Everett Dean and on and on. Even short-term IU coaches like Harry Good (1943-46) and Leslie Mann (1922-24) had wins over Purdue on their resume.
You have to go all the way back to George Levis, who coached Indiana for two years from 1920 to 1922, to find an Indiana basketball coach who never beat Purdue like Archie Miller has.
That was exactly one century ago.
Levis had four chances over those two years, losing twice his first year in the 1920-21 season. He lost 27-18 in West Lafayette on Jan. 28, 1921 and lost 28-20 on March 3, 1921 in Bloomington.
During his final season, he lost 24-19 on Feb. 11, 1922 in Bloomington and then suffered a tough 20-9 loss at Purdue on Feb. 25, 1922.
And you complain about Archie Miller's offense?
Nevis was 0-4 against Purdue but, let me tell you, he's a great story. He was the national player of the year at Wisconsin in 1916 and led the Badgers to a mythical national championship. He was 25-16 as the head coach at Indiana – an Archie Miller-envious .610 winning percentage (Miller is at .562) – but right before his third season was about to start, he quit to go to work for his family glass business.
Quit coaching Indiana basketball to go work in the family business. Can you imagine?
But at least he did good basketball things there at Illinois Glass Company, where he helped design the very first glass backboards at the Alton, Ill., company that was the world's largest glass bottle manufacturer at the time.
You've got to love history lessons, right? It beats the hell out of present day.
Will this streak ever end?
We've asked this question often around Indiana. If not now, then when? Indiana has lost as favorites the past two years, and these really aren't elite Purdue teams. The Boilers lost 15 games last year – and beat Indiana twice. The Boilers have five losses already this season – and have another win in Bloomington.
There's nothing to really hang your hat on that this streak will end anytime soon, either. It was Matt Painter and Purdue who won the two big in-state recruiting battles this year, signing four-star forwards Trey Kaufman and Caleb Furst. And Purdue's freshmen, which includes redshirts Brandon Newman and Mason Gillis, performed at a high level on Thursday night.
It's important to point out that on Thursday night, Newman and Gillis plus true freshmen Jaden Ivey, Zach Edey and Ethan Morton combined to score 35 points in the win.
Indiana's four freshmen, considered the No. 15-ranked recruiting class in the country a year ago, combined for just three points. Trey Galloway is the only one who really plays. Anthony Leal played four minutes, Khristian Lander two, and Jordan Geronimo didn't play at all.
Whose immediate future looks brighter?
There are many people in the Indiana fan base who want Archie Miller fired every time the Hoosiers miss a shot. They scream even louder every time Indiana loses a game, and the roars are very loud when you lose the eighth straight game to the hated arch rivals.
I'm not in that group that overreacts by the minute. When Trayce Jackson-Davis said on Wednesday that Indiana could easily be 5-1 in the Big Ten, I didn't bat an eye because he wasn't wrong. They should have won the Northwestern and Wisconsin games and, for that matter, they had a shot at Illinois, too.
But the problem is all in the perception. Jackson-Davis is really good, and he went off for 25 points on Thursday despite early foul trouble. (My pre-game column nailed that. Having to guard beefy centers can cause problems). But where Indiana struggles is that oftentimes there's no one else to step up.
Armaan Franklin was back after two-plus games out with an ankle injury. He gave it his all and scored 14 points, but he was 0-for-5 from three. Race Thompson had 13 points and 10 rebounds and really played hard, but Trevion Williams scored right over the top of him far too often. He was giving up too much size.
And that brings us back to the finger-pointing at veteran guards Al Durham and Rob Phinisee. When they really struggled early in the season, it had a direct relationship to how Indiana played as a team.
It was no different Thursday night, They played a combined 51 minutes and scored just four points each. Not good enough. Even worse, their close-out defense on Purdue's shooters was awful. The Boilers started 6-for-7 from three and were 11-for-17 on the night. Indiana was just 3-for-18,
That can't happen. You need to challenge shooters. Michigan State did that last Friday against Purdue, and the Boilers were 0-for-12 from three in the first half. Indiana's defense just isn't there right now.
The Hoosiers are 8-6 overall, and 3-4 in the Big Ten. That's your present-day news, and you've had your George Levis history lesson, too.
And the future? Well, close your eyes. I am suddenly very fearful this is about to get ugly, and that's hard to say for the optimist in me. Sunday's game at Michigan State has been postponed, but after that, you really start to wonder where the wins are going to come from.
Indiana still has to play No. 5 Iowa twice, still has No. 7 Michigan twice, still has ranked teams Ohio State and Illinois and has two games with Rutgers, who was ranked as high as No. 11 in the country before three straight losses. And then there's Purdue, of course, and the rematch on Saturday, March 6, the final game of the regular season.
That's sad, and worrisome.
And even worse, there's no family business to run off to.
Related stories on Indiana basketball
- PURDUE BEATS INDIANA, 81-69: Purdue shoots lights out from three-point range, making 11 of 17 shots from long range on Thursday night to beat Indiana for the eighth straight time. CLICK HERE
- IU-MICHIGAN STATE GAME POSTPONED: Because of COVID-19 issues inside the Michigan State program, Sunday's game in East Lansing between the Hoosiers and Spartans has been postponed. CLICK HERE
- INDIANA SCHEDULE 2020-21 SEASON: Here is Indiana's complete basketball schedule for the 2020-21 season, including links to all the game stories and Tom Brew columns so far. CLICK HERE