I’m back home again from Indy with a busted bracket, hangover, and little sleep. Not quite as bad as the 1987 Final Four in New Orleans, but 34 years older and out of drinking shape. O’Reilly’s Irish Pub turned out to be our rendezvous spot between games. My friend who secured the hard-to-get tickets was following Illinois to their disastrous end, while my Indy buddy and I saw an assortment of teams live at both Lucas Oil Stadium and Banker’s Life. Purdue failed to please, falling to The Mean Green, as the sole representative of the state’s once-renowned round-ball heritage. IU stumbled once again and missed the Big Dance altogether. Oregon’s opponent was eliminated by Covid and the only other Beavs fan I met was due to a rest room break at a bar appropriately called The Wild Beaver. I was wearing my Oregon State baseball shirt.
The three flights in from Portland to Indianapolis went relatively smoothly but sleep was hard to come by. A 5:30 a.m. run through a nearly abandoned terminal at O’Hare got me through the night – that’s 2:30 a.m. Portland time! The first stop after the airport was The World of Beer where I enjoyed my first cold one. Former IU star Dan Dakich hosted a live radio show that was organized by another friend of mine. I tried my best to work in some of my oldest media pals into our fast paced schedule while I was in town, while grabbing some BBQ wings. The Day 2 lunch was at the Workingman’s Friend with other dudes from my past. Next, on the agenda were stops at The Yardhouse, Slippery Noodle, Harry & Izzy’s, and 10 West. For me, it was an exhausting trip down memory lane in the town where I spent 15 years of my life. I was proud that the Hoosier State could pull off this basketball extravaganza, but without the packed arenas and screaming crowds these efforts were futile.
Over the two night span, I got together with 7 fellow basketball buds and made a few phone calls to those who couldn’t be there. Everyone was curious about the unprecedented experience of all these games in central Indiana, but the crowds were disappointing and the venues seemingly empty thanks to Covid. Zip ties were used to disable seats that were strategically socially distanced. At first, it looked like you could move down to empty chairs closer to the courts, but you couldn’t sit in them. Entire sections were blocked off and the atmosphere was sadly sterile. Plus, the mask patrol was monitoring everyone on cameras and warning us of ejection. I’m sure the players were glad to have live supporters, but their voices were lost in the cavernous void. It was better to stay home and watch the action on TV, because the party crowds on the street or in the stands were sorely missing. A year ago downtown Indy was bustling with activity even on a normal day, but the tourney came off as a ghost town despite all these teams and fans in attendance.
One of my highlights of being back home again in Indiana was a bacon and maple cream long john, made by a popular donut spot. This was a late night surprise left on the doorstep of my good friend’s condo. His place is a bit far from the downtown action, so he did a lot of shuttling us around. We had a great time as always, bemusing about the miserable IU season and speculating on a new coach. March MADness took on new meaning with the anger we expressed in both 2020 and 2021. I’m home and back in the blog business, with lots of good weekend memories.
It’s March and on the last two days of the regular season I don’t have a dog in the fight. I.U. was the first to be eliminated. Their season is mercifully over. Purdue was beaten a few days ago by Ohio State. The undefeated Zags easily won their tournament a few days ago so they aren’t playing this weekend. The Beavers beat the Ducks in basketball, while the Ducks prevailed in baseball, a rare flip-flop of program strengths. My four most hated teams are battling it out for the BIG bracket title, a tournament that I.U. has never won since inception. Not much to look forward to over the next few days except the tourney draw.
When I get to Indianapolis next weekend, I will struggle with allegiance. The Ducks and Boilers will get another chance for post season glory, while the Zags should cruise through their first two games. Oregon State will only get in, despite three straight Pac12 wins, if they beat Colorado today, a team they’ve lost to twice. The number 12 has been added to their jerseys as a reminder that they were picked to finish last in the conference by the pre-season pollsters. They could win the Pac12 tourney for the first time in program history. Now that’s a fighting Dog!
The Hoosiers were the worst kind of dog, finishing with six straight conference losses, rather than peaking for a March Madness run. They face an off-season of uncertainty as Archie Miller’s fate is determined. Trayce Jackson-Davis will not be back though I don’t see much of a future for him in the NBA. He certainly got to the free throw line frequently but the rim doesn’t favor his short game and he can’t shoot well from the charity stripe. He could be a star if he stayed in college two more years, but Archie is not a teaching coach. The G-League is his certain destiny. The only guy that did hit free throws this year, Al Durham, could come back for another year – but probably won’t. I’m not at all looking forward to next year without the shooters, big bodies, or innovative coaching that can effectively compete in the BIG. Unless there is change, my hapless Hoosiers are nothing but a barkless dog without a fight!
It’s depressing irony that four Indiana basketball schools will probably be playing in Dallas or done for the year while the NCAA tournament takes place in their back yard. Only Purdue will represent what was once the greatest basketball state in the nation. Indiana, Butler, Ball State, and Notre Dame will all end the regular season with losing records. Will the NIT even have them? Indiana will probably finish 10th in the BIG with the first nine likely going to the Big Dance. Notre Dame is looking at 11th in the ACC, just behind Duke that still has a slim chance of making the field. Butler sits at 10th in the Big East and Ball State 8th in the MAC. It was also a bad year for Valparaiso (10-18) and Evansville (9-16). Indiana State topped both of them in the Missouri Valley conference at 15-10 but tourney winner Loyola and runner-up Drake will probably get the nod. Could Dallas also be a destination for the Sycamores?
The #4 seed Boilermakers got a March Madness double-bye in the BIG battle and have a chance at favorable NCAA placement in their home state if they win on Friday. I will support them once I.U. has officially been eliminated, which will probably be sooner than later. Purdue will sadly be the sole state representative once the Big Dance starts next week. I hope to see them in person, fully vaccinated, when I travel to Indy on the 19th. Boiler Up and Go Ducks!
#10 seed I.U. plays #7 Rutgers tonight in the BIG tournament, facing the possibility of going 0-3 this year against the Scarlet Knights. If the Hoosiers can pull of the upset, they would face Illinois on Friday, who also swept them in the regular season. As poorly as the Hoosiers have played this year, two big upset wins could get them in with a 14-14 overall record, although they’d have to win at least one more to assure a .500 season. The conference games are in Indianapolis, after all, and maybe the rims will be kind for once. Fat Chance!
It’s a New Year with hopes of an I.U. Outback Bowl victory. Last year, they fell short against Tennessee with a late game letdown. With last night’s Ohio State Sugar Bowl domination of Clemson, this Hoosier team is even stronger than I thought. We came so close against the Buckeyes, plus Northwestern throttled Auburn, so the BIG 10 has proven to be a very formidable league, especially against the highly touted SEC. Indiana can add to the 3-0 conference bowl record today with a victory over Old Miss in Tampa. This would set the stage for more respect when next year’s postseason slate is determined.
The Hoosiers should have played in the top tier Citrus Bowl instead of Northwestern but fell in the final rankings to #11 despite a convincing win over Wisconsin, the other BIG bowl representative. Clearly politics played a role, just as Notre Dame was awarded a playoff spot despite the Clemson blow-out loss. Coach Tom Allen has vaulted the I.U. program into the upper echelon of a powerful conference. They can prove their worth today! My other team, #25 Oregon, plays #10 Iowa State later today in the Fiesta Bowl.
Meanwhile, basketball continues to struggle, but did manage to pull-off an OT win over Penn State. Another W against Maryland next week and they can even their BIG record after an 0-2 start. Basketball used to be the big sport on campus in Bloomington, but surprisingly football has proven to be more successful in recent years. In the Bob Knight era it was “The Magic of 60.” If the Hoosiers got to 60 before their opponent victory was eminent. However, with the addition of the 3-point shot, 70 is now coach Archie Miller’s defining number. With his leadership, in conference play (including the B1G tourney) the Hoosiers are 18-7 when scoring 70 or more points and 10-30 when scoring below 70 points. 70 is the new 60 going forward.
Purdue basketball is off to a 7-4 start, but 2-2 in the conference. They play #15 Illinois this afternoon, after losing to #14 Rutgers. It would be nice to see a ranked Purdue or Indiana program. Unfortunately, both rivals will be in the lower half of the BIG since the league is loaded with 7 nationally ranked teams. Here on the West coast, the undefeated Zags are still the #1 team in the country while the Oregon Ducks (6-1) stand at #21.
On the baseball front, the Cubs continue to clean house with the trade of Yu Darvish and Victor Caratini to the Padres. Yu has been the pitching leader for the last two years, with Cy Young consideration. There’s also talk of dealing my favorite and IU alum, Kyle Schwarber. Rizzo and Bryant will soon become free agents, so the World Series Champions of 2016 are seeing their winning foundation deteriorate. Today, however, my concern is football the Indiana Hoosiers in the Outback Bowl.
With the cancellation of the Bucket Game, I was able to focus on Oregon vs. USC for the Pac12 title. USC may very well be I.U.’s Fiesta Bowl opponent but will now appear in that game without an undefeated record. The Ducks saw to that with a 31-24 victory at the nearly empty LA Coliseum. it will give Oregon an opportunity to extend their season with a 4-2 record. It also ends their two-game losing streak. Coach Mario Cristobal’s had his contract extended prior to the game. USC still has the best record at 5-1 in the conference but the Ducks take the title.
As a Bucket consolation prize that does at least stay in Bloomington, Indiana basketball won a Crossroads Classic game over state rival Butler this morning. In all fairness, the Bulldogs were riddled by both injuries and Covid. I.U. tried to give them the game with turnovers and poor shooting, but prevailed in the end, as Butler literally ran out of gas. Next up for the Hoosiers is the daunting BIG 10 slate starting with Northwestern. I have my doubts if they are built to handle the bruising conference challenge, considering their lack of size. They were once again 35-30 outrebounded by Butler, as was the case in their first loss of the season against Texas. After the Wildcats, come the #13 ranked Illini with a huge front line, and then the Nittany Lions to round out 2020. The #15 Hoosier women start their BIG campaign against Nebraska, Minnesota, and Illinois.
The new year for I.U. athletics will start with a bowl game and then basketball against Maryland, #12 Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue, #4 Michigan State, #5 Iowa, #19 Rutgers, and #25 Michigan. I.U. will be lucky to end this stretch with a .500 record. Maybe they can at least get a victory over a Top-25 team? I’m much more confident about getting a Hoosier bowl victory. I.U. men’s basketball is in danger of another mediocre BIG10 season and I’m worried!
It was another dark, damp, cold morning run #4,370. The radio was promoting the annual Union Gospel Mission homeless campaign, so when I got back home I made a donation. It’s hard to imagine being without shelter in winter weather like this, even though it’s mild compared to other areas I’ve lived. By the same token, the colder regions don’t have the homeless problems that we do. We try to leave food and supplies on neighborhood benches and hand out some cash whenever possible. For the most part, they stay to themselves but we have encountered angry, belligerent drunks. The situation has obviously worsened with the shutdown of area businesses.
There were more strange Covid developments regarding area sports when the PAC12 announced that Oregon will be replacing Washington in the conference football title game. The Huskies could not meet the roster minimum of 53 healthy players. The Ducks will meet undefeated U.S.C., hoping to use this opportunity to salvage their season and move on to a bowl game if they win. You need a scorecard to keep track of all these twists in scheduling. It gives me something else to watch on the TV screen, in addition to the James Bond-athon that has occupied my time these past few weeks. I’ve now crossed Never Say Never (#14 1983), Octopussy (#13 1983) and Living Daylights (#16 1987) off the list. There are 25 titles in total with the 26th, No Time To Die, now further delayed until April 2021, also due to Covid.
It will be good to get back in the movie theaters again. Covid has taken away “Matinee Mondays” and has moved “Meatless Monday” to later in the week. “Leadership Fridays” sadly no longer exist, along with “Date Night.” Nothing is sacred in these troubling times. This just in: Bucket Game canceled for the second time this week. Thankfully, only ten days until Christmas and sixteen to finally put an end to a Topsy-Turvy 2020.
There was a Border War yesterday, but it only took place on the basketball court. Oregon beat Washington 74-71, claiming their fourth straight rivalry victory. Earlier in the day, both football teams were unfortunately stuck on the sidelines due to Covid, which now raises a controversial issue. If the game had been played, Oregon might have had a chance to play for the PAC12 Championship and potentially redeem a disappointing season. Instead, the Huskies failed to field a team yet claimed the North division with a better record, without even having played a road game. The Ducks are just another casualty of the virus.
Meanwhile in the BIG10, match-ups for Saturday’s games have yet to be announced, though it seems likely that IU.’s next football game will be against Iowa. Football continues to be the shining star in the I.U. athletics program, but sadly never got the chance to play Purdue. Oregon is now waiting to see if Washington can put together a team to play U.S.C. in the Championship. Otherwise, the Ducks could play again in their stead, since it’s unlikely they will be in a bowl game unless they get a shot at the undefeated and 15th ranked Trojans. Ohio State and Michigan also never got a chance to compete, so the BIG waived the minimum game rule to allow them to play Northwestern for the title. The two conferences have been a cluster of confusion.
I.U. basketball stands at a mediocre 3-2 after the disappointing overtime failure at Florida State. Both losses have been to Top 20 teams, keeping The Hoosiers from joining this evasive, elite group of college programs. If they continue to fall short, they may not make the tournament again this year. They’re also looking sloppy against North Alabama, while next week’s game with Butler is in Covid jeopardy. An impossibly tough conference schedule then looms ahead. All is not well with Archie Miller’s underperforming team – another cluster of confusion.
There is no Bucket or Border War to win today. Both rivalries have succumb to Covid. The teams were already three weeks behind schedule as both conference seasons were delayed and shortened by the dreaded virus. Dead. Games today will decide who plays who next, although it has already been determined that #4 Ohio State will play #14 Northwestern for the BIG10 title, #1 Alabama will face #6 Florida for the SEC crown, and #2 Notre Dame will meet #3 Clemson in a rematch for ACC bragging rights. I’m waiting to see what BIG10 team #8 Indiana plays next Saturday and whether the Oregon Ducks will get to compete for PAC12 honors or if the Huskies will automatically get the nod?
1942 was the first Old Oaken Bucket game where Indiana or Purdue entered the contest with a national rating. That year the #18 Hoosiers won 20-0. The following year #3 Purdue got revenge 7-0. In 1945, it was #4 I.U. prevailing 26-0. It wasn’t until 1960 that ratings once again became a bucket factor as #13 Purdue won in West Lafayette 35-6. 1967 went to #4 Indiana, while the 1968 #12 Boilers took home the bucket, and added another P-link in 1969 as the #17 team in the country. 1978 and 1979 also went to ranked Purdue, and it wasn’t until 1987 when the ratings tide changed as #20 Indiana won 35-14, followed by similar success by the #21 Hoosiers in 1993. After that it was all Purdue with nationally recognized teams in 1997 (#23), 1999 (#19), 2000 (#17), and 2003 (#16). Following this stretch, both programs had been in a serious ratings draught until the 2020 #8 Indiana Hoosiers took the field.
It was the Joe Tiller era from 1996-2008 when the dominant Black & Gold went 10-2 against the bucket deprived Cream & Crimson. Going back a little further, the rivalry’s biggest upset was in 1989 when Bill Mallory coached I.U. was a 15.5 favorite, but underdog Purdue led by Fred Akers pulled off a 15-14 victory. It was their only Big Ten win that year and proof that anything can happen in a rivalry game. With the death of the bucket this year, we’ll never know if lightening could have possibly struck twice?
Indiana is having the best football season since before I was born. A once mediocre to poor program has been resurrected by coach Tom Allen. For me, watching them beat Wisconsin yesterday was a near religious experience. The post-game interview showed the love of the players for their coach. It’s encouraging to note that his enthusiasm, energy, and respect will bring top players to Indiana for many years to come. Football will become THE Hoosier sport. Next year, even Ohio State will have reason to fear the Cream & Crimson.
The next step is beating Purdue next Saturday for the Old Oaken Bucket. Rivalry games like this tend to bring out the best in a mediocre opponent like this year’s Boilermakers squad. I’ve seen many a solid I.U. team fall apart in this game. Weather may even be a bigger factor with the December match-up three weeks later than normal. There’s been nothing normal about 2020, and I.U. football success is one of the irregularities. The Hoosiers now boast the most wins in the BIG Conference at six, with Penn State, Michigan, and now Wisconsin as their uncharacteristic victims. In order to qualify for the Championship game, Ohio State still needs to play one more game. If the virus gets in the way, as it often has this year, the Hoosiers could still win the evasive title.
In my lifetime, only the Rose Bowl season of 1967-68 compares with 2020-21 success. The Hoosiers under John Pont finished 6-1 in the Big Ten that year, 9-2 overall, and became the last non-Ohio/Michigan team to win the Conference, losing only to Minnesota. They earned a trip to the Rose Bowl, but were thwarted 14-3 by USC’s O.J. Simpson, the Heisman Trophy winner that year. The team featured wide receiver Jade Butcher, running back John Isenbarger, and MVP Harry Gonzo at quarterback: B-I-G. They were known by those three letters long before the Conference itself!
Virus willing – there will be at least three more games for the Hoosiers this year, including a major Bowl. Hungry Purdue at 2-4 will not qualify for post season play even if they pull-off the upset of I.U. – more reason for me to worry about next Saturday. My other hometown adopted teams are Illinois 2-4, Texas 6-3, and Oregon 3-2. Notre Dame stands at 10-0, with a chance for a National Championship. My heart is always with the Hoosiers. Behold – we are witnessing the resurrection of I.U. football!
I made it through Friday the 13th and running day number 1339, as I settle in front of the T.V. for The Masters and college football. The 10th ranked Indiana Hoosiers face another BIG nemesis, as they travel to East Lansing. I coined the phrase “0 for East Lansing” after many years of zero success in both football and basketball. Every time we visited it was a fruitless experience, never returning with the Brass Spittoon. The Spartans lead the football series 48-16-2, without a loss there since 2001, a game I must have missed. 1986 was a rare year of success for I.U., but then you have to go back to 1967-69 for victories, a few years before I was a student in Bloomington.
To win in East Lansing would be another season jewel and a chance to go head-to-head with the Buckeyes for all the BIG marbles next Saturday. I’m of course concerned about a let-down, after knocking-off both Penn State and Michigan. I could never be optimistic about I.U. football after so many years of disappointment. Purdue is also undefeated against Northwestern today, and Oregon meets Washington State later this afternoon. Between games, I’m taking a drive to McMinnville for lunch with the boys at Two Dogs. It’s the mid-point for our “Leadership” group whose regular meetings have been disrupted by the Coronavirus. It will be good to get together, eat a cheeseburger, and watch The Masters.
My extended weekend of football started on a good note when the Colts beat the Titans on Thursday night, but soured when my high school team lost their Regional match-up last night. It was their first year of being Lions, abandoning the Blazer name in a merger with the Chargers. “Once a Blazer, always a Blazer” is our class motto, but Elkhart’s return to a one-high-school town, as it was when I attended, brought new strength to a steadily declining athletics program. It was enough for an undefeated season and Sectional Championship in the inaugural year. A great hometown achievement!
On Monday Night Football, the Chicago Bears get another chance for victory under the leadership of a new offensive coordinator, as the 5-day sports weekend continues. Hopefully, Da’ Bears can end a bad stretch of losses after a strong start. In addition, the Portland Timbers also match-up against Dallas in the first-round of the MLS playoffs next Sunday, a week after final round coverage of The Masters comes to a close. However, the key to a successful weekend is to end my “0 for East Lansing” curse.
P.S. Final Score: I.U 24 Michigan State 0