In 49 other states it's just basketball...This Is Indiana.
Truer words have never been spoken when it comes to Indiana's love affair with basketball. There isn't a town in the state that hasn't experienced Hoosier Hysteria in one way or another.
That love will be rekindled on Saturday when Indiana, Purdue and Notre Dame join Butler in Indianapolis for the latest installment of the Crossroads Classic, an annual meeting of the top four Division I programs in the state.
The Crossroads Classic has delivered some truly great games over the last four years, notably Butler's overtime victory over No. 1 Indiana in 2012 and Andrew Smith's buzzer-beating tip-in that led the Bulldogs to a win over Purdue in 2011.
There's no arguing that the event has been an incredible success. In its current form the only drawback is that Notre Dame/Butler are kept from playing each other as Indiana/Purdue would never meet as a non-conference game on a neutral court.
Why is Notre Dame/Butler important? The two programs are separated by just 140 miles, yet haven't played a non-tournament game in more than 20 years. The two schools finally came together for a memorable overtime game in the 2015 NCAA tournament. Why don't these programs play each other?
For a state that prides itself on basketball, why are some of the biggest teams in the state so set against playing other Indiana programs? In interest of full disclosure, I'm from Wisconsin. Last week the Badgers played both Milwaukee and Marquette and they'll play Green Bay next week. Marquette has recently played games against Milwaukee and Green Bay. As someone who enjoys watching all four teams throughout the year, I'm glued to the screen whenever two of them meet.
This leads to my proposal for the Crossroads Classic. Expansion. Bring all 10 Division I teams to Indianapolis. For a state that loves basketball, create a three-day event which celebrates the game and features all of the Division I programs in the state.
Hold the event the weekend before Christmas. Final exams have typically wrapped by this point and teams wouldn't be limited to just two days on the road due to class restrictions. Make sure everyone is in town by Friday afternoon. Give teams the opportunity to tour the NCAA Hall of Champions. On Friday evening have a banquet featuring all 10 teams. Bring in a keynote speaker, maybe a former NBA player or someone that is successful in the business world. Make it educational. Split the teams up and players from different teams mingle with one another.
Utilize the Indiana Convention Center for a Crossroads Classic Fan Fest on Saturday and Sunday. Make it similar to what was used for the Final Four. Obviously you won't get the same amount of foot traffic that the Final Four brings, but this is something that could still sell and with 10 schools to draw from, plenty of fans would come to the state's capital for the event. Bring back former alums from each program and host a 3-point contest as part of Fan Fest. Host autograph sessions. Interactive displays for the kids.
Host a coaches clinic at some point during the weekend. Invite high school coaches to town and have the college coaches give instruction.
Now for the games. I'm a fan of the best teams playing the best teams. That doesn't always mean the biggest schools playing each other. Take the RPI from the end of the previous season (in this case, 2014-15) and match up 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10. If there is a conference conflict (Purdue/Indiana, Indiana State/Evansville, IPFW/IUPUI), then move a team up or down in order to fix the conflict.
If RPI isn't the preferred method, use KenPom's rankings or the Sagarin Ratings. Take an average of all three.
Play three games on Saturday and two games on Sunday. Schedule one of the bigger games for Saturday afternoon and a national slot on CBS. Put one of the Big Ten schools on Sunday afternoon and get it on BTN. Get a marquee school on Saturday night.
Using the 2014-15 RPI, here would be the games for this season. Purdue moves up and Evansville moves down to breakup Purdue/Indiana game.
Saturday, 1 p.m. No. 10 Notre Dame vs. No. 30 Butler, CBS
Saturday, 4 p.m. No. 257 IUPUI vs. No. 288 Ball State
Saturday, 7 p.m. No. 61 Evansville vs. No. 63 Indiana
Sunday, Noon. No. 177 Indiana State vs. No. 217 IPFW
Sunday, 3 p.m. No. 56 Valparaiso vs. No. 62 Purdue, Big Ten Network
This gives us the marquee Notre Dame/Butler game. Valparaiso and Evansville get a chance to take on a program that normally wouldn't put them on the schedule while Purdue and Indiana get a strong mid-major opponent that could boost RPI as opposed to playing a cupcake.
It's an ambitious proposal and I'm sure there are a thousand different ways to poke holes in it. That said, just picture a weekend where fans and alums come from every corner of the state to Indianapolis to celebrate this wonderful game of basketball. After all, in 49 other states it's just basketball...This Is Indiana.