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Crean not backing down on Kentucky stance

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For more on Indiana athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.

IU coach says schedule tough even without Wildcats

Thursday, May 10, 2012 - 6:03 am

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the Indiana-Kentucky basketball series stare down, Tom Crean ain't blinking.

He arrived at IU's Tailgate Tour opener at Lucas Oil Stadium Wednesday night secure in the belief that the Hoosiers' basketball schedule, with or without Kentucky, is not for the faint of heart.

There will be a Big Ten-ACC Challenge battle, with the opponent likely to be North Carolina, North Carolina State or Duke. Why? Because the Hoosiers are preseason No. 1 by many media outlets and opponents are matched up based on their season prospects.

There's the Legends Classic in New York City along with Georgetown, UCLA and Georgia.

There's a Crossroads Classic game with Butler at Indianapolis' Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That's part of an annual rotation that also includes Notre Dame and Purdue.

Finally, the Big Ten rates as strong as any conference in the country.

Anything else –- such as if it's important to replace Kentucky with another marquee opponent -- is just talk.

“We have a very tough schedule as it is,” Crean said. “We'll look at what will fit for us this year. At the same time, because there's not a Kentucky series right now, we'll make some plans for the future.”

An optimist could take that phrase -– “not a Kentucky series right now” -– as a sign that the series isn't dead yet, but that's just speculation.

As far as reports that Indiana was in talks about a home-and-home series with Kansas and Louisville, Crean revealed little.

“I don't have an update on scheduling. I'm not going to speculate on who we might play or who we might play down the road.

“We've got some hard games, some very hard games, already scheduled. I'm certain we'll get a very tough ACC opponent. We always have. It will be a little bit different this year, obviously (as a preseason No. 1).”

IU has played on the road in the last two Big Ten-ACC Challenges, so it likely will host a game this season.

“There's a select few (ACC opponents) we could end up getting at home,” Crean said. “That will be a big-time home game.

“We know we go on the road for something next year and we have to make sure, with that in mind, that we not only schedule for this year, but for the future. Other than that, there's no update on who we're thinking about.”

IU and Kentucky have played at least once every year since 1969. From 1991 to 2005 the games rotated between Indianapolis and Louisville before Kentucky officials, after an apparent scheduling glitch at Louisville's Freedom Hall, moved it back to on-campus sites.

For years the series ranked as one of the top non-conference rivalries in the nation. It slipped during Crean's first three seasons as the Hoosiers struggled with NCAA sanctions from the Kelvin Sampson era. Everything changed last season when Indiana stunned No. 1 Kentucky on Christian Watford's buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer at Assembly Hall.

Officials from both schools negotiated on extending the series. The Hoosiers wanted to keep the home-and-home format. The Wildcats wanted to move it to neutral sites. Coach John Calipari said he was fine with Lucas Oil Stadium.

IU officials said, in essence, no way.

“Someone asked me, do you not want to play at neutral sites,” Crean said. “We have neutral sites. When the Crossroads Classic came in, that was something that would be locked in every year. Even though it's in Indianapolis, it's a neutral site. It's not a home site.

“We'll always want to have the ability to play in exempt tournaments. We've done that in the past. We have it this year by playing (two games) in New York. That's three (neutral site) games right there.

“At the end of the day, it just became two different philosophies. Two different viewpoints.”

In other words, IU officials believed it was better to not play Kentucky than to play at neutral sites. That stirred up fans given many preseason polls picked Indiana and Kentucky as No. 1 and No. 2 in the country next season. It would have been one of next season's most anticipated regular-season games.

“The bottom line, when it comes to the history of the scheduling,” Crean said, “the way I understand it, Kentucky moved it back on campus anyway before we (Crean and his staff) came to Indiana. We saw no reason to move it off campus. If it's going to move off, we didn't want to do it at this point.

“At the same time, we'll look down the road to put somebody into a home-and-home situation. Again, if there's not a Crossroads Classic, if there's not an exempt tournament, it's easier to do. But that's not the case.

“We want to make sure we always have enough home games so we can schedule for each year and for the years forward. If something works out for us to be on the road, great. It's as simple as that for us. It wasn't a complicated process.”