Season recaps today are for Indiana and Purdue. I've always believed this is the conference's best rivalry. Unlike Michigan-Ohio State the animosity extends into both sports. And unlike Michigan-Ohio State, the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket built itself upon a much purer form of hate. While the Wolverines-Buckeyes game became big because it was traditionally for the Big Ten football title, the Hoosiers-Boilers hated each other, more often than not, simply on principle. There was usually little at stake in the big picture, so the only motivating factor was utter vindictiveness towards your fellow man. And it's impossible to overstate how much Big Ten Country, admires and respects human beings capable of that kind of venom over a sporting event. Short of going to a soccer game in Europe or any game in Philadelphia, this is the closest the Midwest will see to perfect hatred.
I trust the good people of the state of Indiana know I'm speaking tounge-in-cheek on most of this. And unfortunately for them, the rivalry again lacked any broader context. Of the four seasons (two in each sport for both schools), three of them were rough. Life was particularly disastrous in Bloomington, which accomplished the unenviable feat of finishing dead last in both football and basketball.
Tom Crean took over a mess from Kelvin Sampson in IU's proud basketball program. D.J. White and Eric Gordon left early and the cupboard was bare. An 88-50 pounding at the hands of Notre Dame out in Maui was a clear signal of rougher sailing ahead. Indiana won just one Big Ten game and its best player, Devan Dumes, was suspended for two games in the middle of the conference schedule.
Bill Lynch's football program was in a rebuilding mode after going to their first bowl game in fourteen years the previous fall. Here too, it was a hard ride the whole way. IU won just three games total and one in the Big Ten. They gave up over 30 points eight times, over 40 points three times and opponents cleared the 50 mark twice.
If you were an Indiana fan, you witnessed exactly two triumphs over Big Ten opposition in the course of an entire academic year. Next season can't come too soon.
It was the final season for Joe Tiller on the football field. The coach who rebuilt the Boilermakers from the ashes into a team that went to a Rose Bowl (2000) and several other postseason games, ended his career on an unfortunate and inappropriate note. Purdue sank back into no-bowl territory, going 4-8. They still beat Indiana in the Bucket game, 62-10 and also took advantage of the opportunity to win at Michigan, so at least the old coach got some final trophies to put on his mantle.
Basketball was a big year. The standard outlook on Purdue, one repeated both here and elsewhere, was that they started slow, both overall and in conference play. In reviewing the entire year, I was struck by how much "better" the early losses look in retrospect. The slow December start was noted primarily because of a loss to Oklahoma. The Sooners were seen as a borderline NCAA team at best. Instead they produced the Player of the Year in Blake Griffin and got a two-seed in the tournament. The Big Ten season started with an overtime loss to Illinois and a close road loss to Penn State. Both are teams that significantly exceeded expectations. Purdue started stringing together wins after that, but their starts were never as sluggish as they appeared to many of us at the time.
And the finish was unambigiously positive. They won their first-ever conference tournament and then took home two wins in March Madness. Matt Painter's program continues to improve each year. The next logical step is going to be a championship and he's got all the horses he needs to get it.