Indiana-Kentucky is a rivalry renewed, just a week too early

Indiana and Kentucky will renew their rivalry on Saturday night, but it comes a week too early. My column.

DES MOINES, Iowa --- Indiana and Kentucky. Yogi Ferrell and Tyler Ulis. Tom Crean and John Calipari. Hoosier Nation and Big Blue Nation. 

It's a juicy matchup tailor-made for reality television. Two of the best teams in the country with two of the most passionate fan bases in all of sports. Two of the best point guards in college basketball and two of the most polarizing coaches in the game.

A very public, drawn out divorce (if rivals get divorces?) with repeated glimmers of hope that a reconciliation was possible, but it wasn't. Indiana wanted games on each campus. Kentucky wanted all of the games to be played on a neutral court.

No deal.

"Um, I didn't want to play home and home," Calipari said Thursday. "I told them, 'We would play two years in Indianapolis if you want'. I didn't want to play home and home. I didn't want to go there, and they didn't want to have to come to us. So that ended the series." 

The two programs haven't played since 2012, the season Indiana upset No. 1 Kentucky with Christian Watford's iconic buzzer-beating 3 and the Wildcats eliminated Indiana in the Sweet 16 on their way to a national title.

The series has never seemed close to continuing, until the NCAA selection committee decided to put both blue-blood programs in the same region of the Big Dance.

Saturday, a rivalry will be renewed.

"It's a rivalry that runs deeper than time itself," said Indiana's Collin Hartman.

"I have a lot of respect for Indiana, and I hope they have a lot of respect for us," said Kentucky's Isaiah Briscoe. 

It's all fantastic, as exciting and highly-anticipated as any college basketball matchup this year. The only thing wrong with it is it's coming a week too early.

Kentucky is not a 4-seed, and Indiana is not a 5-seed. Anybody that watched the two teams this season -- or on Thursday night -- would agree with that.

But when it comes to the official NCAA Tournament bracket, nobody's opinions matter except for those on the selection committee. And those on the selection committee, they wanted to see Indiana-Kentucky. They wanted it bad. And the farther apart Indiana and Kentucky were on the bracket, the smaller the chances the two teams would eventually meet.

So the selection committee -- those sneaky guys -- they gave Kentucky a 4-seed and Indiana a 5-seed and put them in the same region. Then they seeded Chattanooga and Stony Brook a line or two too high, extra assurance that their golden geese would meet in the round of 32.

So here we are, staring at the selection committee's blissful dream -- Indiana and Kentucky, together again, at 5:15 p.m. ET Saturday night. It's officially a round of 32 game, but you and I both know that it really isn't. This matchup should have come in the Elite Eight, or the Sweet Sixteen at the earliest. Kentucky ranks 6th and Indiana, 13th, according to KenPom.com. 

But the selection committee, those greedy old men, they just couldn't wait. They want their multi-million dollar matchup, and they want it NOW!

Calipari and Crean, they have expressed their displeasure with the seeding ever since the bracket was released on Sunday night. One of them will walk out of Wells Fargo Arena a loser on Saturday night, and will undoubtedly face lots of scrutiny for missing the Sweet Sixteen. These fan bases have little sympathy for teams and coaches that lose, no matter where they're seeded or who they're playing. 

Major sports are a bottom-line business, and the bottom line here is, these two coaches got screwed.

"It's kinda unfortunate that this game is being played this early," Calipari said. "This should be another round or two later. But it is what it is, so both of us are going to have to play. It should be a great game that should be played next weekend."

Added Crean: "I wish we weren't playing them tomorrow, I wish it was later down the road. But [Calipari] predicted it four weeks ago, that we would be in the bracket together."

Don't get me wrong, Saturday night will be a lot of fun for college basketball fans across the country. The arena will be electric, the towns of Bloomington and Lexington will be jumping, and the nation will be watching these two teams. 

But I can't help lamenting the fact that we're seeing this game a week too early. After Saturday night, only of the two teams will still be standing, and that is a damn shame.


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