IU, UK In Role Reversal From 20 Years Ago

Bloomington – Indiana has already faced three top-15 teams in the season's first couple of weeks, but the biggest game of the non-conference schedule is still yet to be played. That contest is Saturday, when the Hoosiers (4-4) travel to Lexington, Ky., to face Kentucky (6-3) at Rupp Arena...

Bloomington – Indiana has already faced three top-15 teams in the season's first couple of weeks, but the biggest game of the non-conference schedule is still yet to be played.

That contest is Saturday, when the Hoosiers (4-4) travel to Lexington, Ky., to face Kentucky (6-3) at Rupp Arena. Neither team is ranked, and the nationally-televised meeting doesn't have the same sort of glamour that many of the past IU-UK encounters have had. But IU Coach Tom Crean still knows this border battle means plenty to a whole lot of people, regardless of the teams' records.

"I've been a fan long enough to know this is a big one," Crean said Monday. "When they match up on the court, it's going to bring a lot of passion out from a lot of people."

The importance of the rivalry is unmistakable. While Hoosier fans north of Bloomington will generally insist that Big Ten counterpart Purdue is IU's biggest rival, supporters from the southern portion of the state tend to disagree. Ask IU fans from places such as New Albany, Jeffersonville and Evansville and you'll quickly learn that the annual December match-up against "Big Blue" is the game they circle on IU's schedule each season.

Coach Billy Gillispie's team suffered a stunning 111-103 loss to VMI in its season opener, and it's since added losses to ranked foes North Carolina (77-58) and Miami, Fla. (73-67) in the early going. But Indiana still has plenty working against it as it gears up for the rivalry game.

Indiana hasn't beaten Kentucky in the Bluegrass state since 1988, when the Jay Edwards-led Hoosiers drilled the Wildcats 75-52. That was the fourth and final year of Eddie Sutton's tenure, and the Wildcat program was being investigated at the time by the NCAA for recruiting and academic violations. The NCAA inquiry would ultimately result in three years of probation for the program, the resignation of Sutton and UK Athletic Director Cliff Hagan and the barring of Chris Mills from playing at UK and the banishment of Eric Manuel from ever playing again at an NCAA institution.

Twenty years later, it's the IU program that is trying to pick up the pieces after an NCAA investigation that resulted in three years of probation and cost the head coach and the athletic director their jobs. While the details of IU's wrongdoings are hardly as sordid as Kentucky's misdeeds, the short-term damage to the program are eerily similar.

Crean will take a team made up of nine freshmen and 14 newcomers to a venue where even the best of IU teams have struggled in years past.

"I wish we had a chance to go in with the experience they have," Crean said.

Experience isn't a luxury Indiana will have this weekend against UK or this entire season. Just about every experience is a new one for Crean's squad, and his team of fledglings will experience a road atmosphere like no other this weekend at the 23,500-seat Rupp Arena.

While Crean's staff won't be able to prepare his team his team for the environment they'll be in this weekend, they're at least hoping that the chance to play teams like Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Gonzaga will at least give them a feel for how they'll need to play to be competitive.

"We're learning not to flinch," Crean said about his team's early-season schedule. "Playing in these types of games, we're learning we have to be at a high level intensity-wise and a higher level than we've been execution-wise."

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