Good morning, valued reader. I sincerely hope your weekend was filled with as much happiness and as little mall traffic as possible, and that your thirst for Wildcat basketball was quenched with the Cats’ return to Rupp. A week without UK basketball is cruel and unusual punishment, and here’s to hoping that someone takes legal action (we’re looking at you, Heavy Hitter) to prevent any future abuse of this nature to the Big Blue Nation.
My weekend was filled with cornfields, basketball, and more cornfields, as I spent the last 36 hours traversing the Crossroads of America, without once using the state of Indiana for its God-given purpose–to take me somewhere better. On the way to Notre Dame (which, by the way, is definitely worth a trip to see) to watch the UK women’s team (which, by the way, is definitely worth a trip to see) take on the Irish, I stumbled upon a real treat for any basketball fan.
The Crossroads Classic, a now annual event hosted in Indianapolis’s Conseco Fieldhouse, brings together four of Indiana’s top college basketball programs for a double-header, selling out the arena’s nearly 20,000 seats and bringing together fans who clearly love to hate each other. I was in attendance for both games on Saturday, and while the contests did not feature the sexiest matchups I’ve ever seen (Butler used a late put-back to beat a Purdue team that treats big leads like wet bars of soap in the first game, while an unimpressive performance from IU was enough to take down the worst Notre Dame squad in recent memory in the second), the atmosphere was electric and the tradition in the building evident. This was more than a day of basketball in downtown Indy. This was a celebration of basketball fans across the state–a showcase of passion and grit, of love and hatred, that piqued my interest despite the fact that my team was absent from the festivities.
So, I wondered, why not have this type of event in the Bluegrass? The commonwealth holds several tradition-rich programs within its borders, each with its own claim to fame, albeit on different levels. Besides the obvious powerhouses in UK and, to a lesser extent, U of L (had to throw the disclaimer in there), Western Kentucky has built a rather respectable program of its own, capped by its 2008 run to the Sweet Sixteen. Murray State, of course, just cracked the top 25 after a 12-0 start and an upset win over Memphis, and Morehead State is enjoying some recent success after sending the Dirty Birds packing last March. Eastern Kentucky…well…they earned berths to the Big Dance in ’05 and ’07, and will occasionally put a decent group of shooters together. I’m envisioning a triple-header featuring UK, Louisville, and Western divvying up the Ohio Valley Conference teams, rotating between the three every year. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely, we could adopt the schedule used by the Crossroads Classic, playing two games in a double-header format, one game featuring Louisville and the other Kentucky, alternating participants between the four other schools.
Of course, there are a couple of obstacles to hosting such an event in the Bluegrass. First, where in the commonwealth would be considered a good “neutral” site? My immediate answer is Freedom Hall, but I don’t claim to have enough knowledge concerning scheduling events like this one to comment on the feasibility of using Rupp Arena Upstate. Regardless, though, I hardly expect that finding a venue would be the most challenging issue. My primary concern, as a fan of college basketball, would be choosing a system that best displays Kentucky’s best teams. If the double-header system were to be adopted, there is a possibility that the best of the four “lesser” teams will be excluded in any given year. For example, if this year happened to be Murray State’s off year in the classic, fans would miss the opportunity to see a high quality intrastate meeting. There are several options for the scheduling of games if such an event were to take place, and deciding on one that works best will take some work. However, as long as both Kentucky and Louisville are involved, the classic should be a guaranteed success.
The slogan on the popcorn buckets at Conseco read, “In 49 states, it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana.” How cute. In fact, it was almost as cute as Louisville claiming to be the “best college sports town in America.” While Kentucky certainly does not need slogans on overpriced buckets of popped corn to prove its status as the basketball capital of the world, a Commonwealth Classic would offer a unique opportunity for the most passionate players, coaches, and fans in the country to come together and celebrate the state’s unparalleled round ball tradition. Let’s make it happen. Otherwise, I’ll have to go back to Indiana every year to see something like it. Talk about cruel and unusual.