Posted: 9:00 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013
The term "rivalry" may be the most debated term in college sports. For every fan, this term means something different. Some view it as something filled with hate, others view it as a big game on the schedule, and others even view it as a sort of gateway to the past, forever tying players, games, and programs with one another. It's something that's discussed often amongst fans, the media, and players. Topics often include which games on the schedule are "rivalry" games, which rivalry games are the biggest, and which deserve special attention or honor. However, one topic that is often forgotten in these discussions is how a rivalry actually begins.
Though it hasn't received much discussion so far, the Big Ten may actually be witnessing the rise of a new "rivalry" on the hardwood. Two of the most prominent success stories in recent years have been the rise of the Indiana and Michigan basketball programs. Both teams were in rough shape before Tom Crean and John Beilein arrived on campus. Each program has been taking steps forward and it culminated during the last two seasons. Both IU and UM made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons, each has won a Big Ten title, each has made the Sweet Sixteen, IU knocked off eventual national champion Kentucky in 2011 and Michigan made the national championship game at the end of last year. Both of these programs may have been struggling, but there's little doubt that both are in great shape right now.
Accompanying this success on the court has been success on the recruiting trail. According to 247Sports, Michigan and Indiana have finished with the top two recruiting classes in the Big Ten in both 2012 and 2013. The teams swapped the top spots in 2012 and 2013. Much of that success has continued to the 2014 recruiting class as well, with both schools already securing commitments from players listed in the top 50 of the 247Composite rankings. This brings us to our first question:
So What Does The Rise of These Two Programs Have To Do WIth A Rivalry?
OSU is recruiting at an excellent level, so why aren't they in this discussion? The biggest reason these two teams have been highlighted is because of the amount of direct contact these coaching staffs have endured in recent years. Just take a look at the classes of both teams through the 2012 and 2013 classes. The schools combined to take commitments from 10 players with Indiana roots in just two classes. So not only were Indiana and Michigan pulling in elite talent, but they were bringing in elite talent where more than half the players came from Indiana.
This competition has continued into 2014 and 2015 as well with both schools looking seriously at prospects such as Trevon Bluiett, Jalen Coleman, Hyron Edwards, and Luke Kennard. There's no guarantee that any of these players will end up at either school (in fact many seem unlikely), but there's a strong indication that this competition for elite talent between the two schools will continue at least for the time being.
This brings us to James Blackmon, a shooting guard out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Blackmon originally committed to the Hoosiers and had stayed committed for a pretty substantial period of time. However, he recently waived on his commitment and began reevaluating his options. One of the rising programs in his recruitment has been Michigan. In fact, the Wolverines have even begun tracking on Blackmon's 247's Crystal Ball predictions. This is important because this could be the first "true" recruiting battle between the two programs. There's no doubt these schools have been competing for talent with one another, but if Michigan lands a commitment from Blackmon, it would be on a much different level. Blackmon had been committed to the Hoosiers for quite some time and leaving to join the Wolverines would surely leave a sour taste for the Indiana staff and fans. This lead us to our second question:
So What if a Recruit De-commits From Indiana and Goes to Michigan?
The answer here is a complex one. Of course, nothing will happen immediately if Blackmon did indeed decide to commit to the Wolverines. It's unlikely either of the coaches would say too much publicly at this point, but the fan reaction would be intense and there have already been indications of rising tensions between the two coaching staffs. This was best evidenced by Tom Crean's freakout after Indiana's Big Ten title clinching win over Michigan in Ann Arbor last season.
Each of the last four games between the two teams have been close and have received much fan and media attention and each successive game has seemed to become bigger culminating in the showdown in Bloomington last year between two top 5 ranked teams before College Gameday and the regular season finale in Ann Arbor where a late missed lay-up by Trey Burke decided the Big Ten. The intensity is already there. The question is just whether a decision by Blackmon could be the final straw that takes this matchup to the next level.
There's no doubt that this isn't a rivalry at this point. This may be a "circle the calendar" type of game right now, but that's only because both teams are playing at an elite level. The difference here is the direct competition between the coaches on an almost daily basis. Add in that both programs are playing well and playing close games and you have the base of what could become an interesting rivalry. It isn't there yet, but don't be surprised if a key decision by Blackmon could shake up the waters just enough to get something special started.