I never used to dislike Indiana, not even a little bit. Coming into the last week, I considered my Hated Rivals as Louisville, Duke and Tennessee in some order, depending on the day. Indiana was an afterthought, and a team for which I actually had a small degree of affection. Having produced two of the most certifiably crazy head coaches in recent college basketball (Bobby Knight and Mike Davis), another habitual cheater (Kelvin Sampson) and now a Dwight Schrute clone (Tom Crean), Indiana struck me as a program more to laugh with than have hatred towards. Indiana for me has been a lot like the caller “The Truth” to my radio show, loud, silly and so out of the mainstream conversation that they were worthy of nothing but a chuckle and a happy pat on the back.
But that isn’t the Indiana program we are faced with now. Based in part on a miracle run through programs like Savannah State and San Francisco, and culminating in a road victory over the Jan Brady of the Triangle, NC State, Indiana fans are now coming into Saturday’s game brimming with confidence. I personally don’t get it. Is there anyone on Indiana’s roster for which you would trade one member of Kentucky’s top 6? A case could be made for Cody Zeller, but with Kentucky’s current front line, the reality is that he simply wouldn’t start on this team. Indiana is good, but Kentucky is simply much better. That doesn’t mean indiana CAN’T win…in a one-game scenario, they can. But there is no argument that Kentucky is not only the favorite, but also the substantially better team/program.
On the radio show, I dubbed Indiana, “the Vienna Sausage of college basketball.” Everyone over 25 remembers Vienna sausage (or as we say it in the mountains, Vi-eeenie Sausage). It is the canned meat substance favored by old and cheap Americans as a method of eating something resembling protein, while also maintaining its status as quite possibly the grossest food product known to man. Like indiana basketball, there was a time that Vienna sausages were considered acceptable nourishment and a part of most American families’ diets. In the 60s, 70s and even the 80s, Vienna sausages could be found in many cabinets across America’s heartland, just as Indiana was a part of most major college basketball discussions. But now, the idea of eating Vienna sausages is repulsive to most sane people. If you want cheap food, go to McDonald’s and get a $1 cheeseburger. There is no level of despair that justifies eating these meat-reject weenies, just as there is no level of desperation that would make a future NBA player without in-state tuition or a buzz cut go to Indiana.
We as Americans have moved on to other disgusting hazardous food products, just as college basketball has long left behind the crimson and white. The candy-striped pants, nameless jerseys and players who are in it for god, country and IU basketball are all well and good, but that act has been overcome by an era of hip-hop, dipsy-do-dunkaroo and “one and done.” Even the schools that still attempt to win the old way (like Duke), do it better and more annoyingly than IU could ever dream. The Hoosiers are a relic from the past and their fall has been so precipitous that one road game win against a Mark Gottfried-coached team coming off a losing record is considered reason for celebration. The idea of Indiana and of potted meat, is still intriguing and good for playful nostalgia. But one would never argue that either is still a relevant delicacy. When it comes to Saturday, lets be real Indiana fans…we are Kentucky…you are Indiana. We have Calipari…you have Crean. We have Davis, Jones, Kidd-Gilchrist and Lamb…you have the best Zeller and guys who hope to be one day hear their name called by the Idaho Stampede in the D-League. You Hoosiers are a nice story. And maybe one day you might hope to finish above Northwestern again in the Big Ten. But you will never be an elite program again, and on Saturday Kentucky’s five superstars and nine eyebrows will remind you of your place yet again.