In-State Classics Shouldn't be Relegated to Indiana
An old tradition is coming back to Indiana when the four best basketball programs in the state, members of three different conferences, are going to stage a double-header in the state capital's NBA arena. The Crossroads Classic will match Indiana and Purdue against Butler and Notre Dame, an echo of the former Hoosier Classic.
That led us to think, why stop there? With the parity of college basketball, several states could offer compelling in-state matchups.
The best possible state challenge would be a modified reboot of the old Dixie Classic, putting North Carolina's Big Four schools Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and N.C. State against each other, but those four teams already play each other in the conference season, which makes it a whole different topic altogether. What about the states that could throw something together like Indiana, where multiple conferences are involved?
Ohio, California and Texas have enough teams to go to eight and have a mega-event, so let's not concentrate on that right now (though an Ohio grouping would be epic with all the different conferences and teams of varying clout -- picture an event with Ohio State, Xavier, Cincinnati, Dayton, Ohio, Kent State, Akron and Wright State). Instead, we'll try to narrow it down to four everywhere. The D.C.-Metro area could put together an outstanding event with Maryland, Georgetown, George Mason and either George Washington or American, but it's not a state, so we'll leave that one on the cutting room floor for now.
Anyway, enough setup. Here are the top 20 states we'd love to see stage a similar event to the one Indiana brought back. The only rule here is that no more than two teams from the same conference can take part. Otherwise it's a totally different animal.
[Note: We're fully aware that the overwhelming majority of these would never happen for several reasons -- one of them being the larger schools not wanting to do it for fear they get knocked off by a small school on a neutral court. This is a hypothetical exercise intended for entertainment.]
Ohio State (Big Ten), Xavier (Atlantic 10), Cincinnati (Big East), Dayton (Atlantic 10)
As I mentioned earlier, an eight-team extravaganza in the Buckeye state would be epic, and no conferences would have more than two teams competing. If forced to narrow it to four, however, I believe I'm running with this group. I guess everyone north or east of Columbus would just have to deal with it.
Florida (SEC), Florida State (ACC), Miami (ACC), South Florida (Big East)
With apologies to fans of small schools, having these four is easily the best shot at two really competitive games. Including three of the six power conferences in a single event would make it a large draw.
Texas (Big 12), Baylor (Big 12), UTEP (Conference USA), Houston (Conference USA)
It's really tough to find a great foursome within the rules we've set here. There are four teams each from the Big 12 and Conference USA. There's also TCU and a bunch of lower-profile schools. As we're looking at programs currently in the best shape, we've got to go with the Big 12 vs. C-USA split because those seem to make the most sense in terms of the kind of interest (both local and national) and revenue the event could generate. Of course, this is fairly subjective. Interestingly, the "little guys" in this setup have more combined Final Fours and national championships (Six Final Fours and UTEP's 1966 title) than the Big 12 teams (Five and zero).
California (Pac-10), UCLA (Pac-10), St. Mary's (WCC), San Diego State (Mountain West)
Obviously there are tons of teams to choose from here, but we played around with all the scenarios and the mix we liked the most contained these four. There's UCLA's history, two capable schools from so-called mid-majors who could stand toe-to-toe with the big boys (if not beat them) and Cal appears to be the next-best option.
Tennessee (SEC), Vanderbilt (SEC), Memphis (Conference USA), Austin Peay (Ohio Valley)
The first three were easy. For the fourth spot, we're going with Austin Peay now, but there are others that might work. Whatever team it was would be taking part in the clear-cut undercard bout to the Memphis vs. either UT or Vandy main event, that's for sure.
Washington (Pac-10), Washington State (Pac-10), Gonzaga (WCC), Seattle (IND)
Another really underrated opportunity here, if Gonzaga and Washington could put their differences aside. Seattle, Elgin Baylor's alma mater, is an up-and-coming independent which is resurrecting its program. Taking part in a high-profile event early in the season can only help.
Oklahoma (Big 12), Oklahoma State (Big 12), Oral Roberts (Summit), Tulsa (Conference USA)
The Sooner State has just four Division-I level schools, but they fit perfectly. This is a no-brainer event, which would pit two big and two small schools in battle, and they could play it at Ford Center, home of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kentucky (SEC), Louisville (Big East), Murray State (Ohio Valley), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt)
We know about the Louisville-UK rivalry, but you could sprinkle in Western Kentucky and Murray State to give the little guys a shot at knocking off the state's supreme programs. This one would surely be a hot ticket for anyone from the Bluegrass State.
Villanova (Big East), Pitt (Big East), Penn State (Big Ten), Temple (Atlantic 10)
Tons to choose from here, including the Philly Five. We'd run with these four due to variety of conferences. It's tough to omit St. Joseph's, but we like the Big Ten in there instead of having two A-10 schools with two Big East teams.
Virginia (ACC), Virginia Tech (ACC), Old Dominion (Colonial), Richmond (Atlantic 10) -- Great mix here of major conference teams with very solid mid-majors. This would be among the most competitive double-dips in the entire country, as some seasons the best team wouldn't be one of the two ACC teams.
Utah (Mountain West, for now), BYU (Mountain West, for now), Weber State (Big Sky), Utah State (WAC)
Here's our vote for the most underrated possibility, especially once Utah and BYU aren't in the same conference anymore. You'd have four schools from four different conferences -- if BYU either went independent or crawled back to the MWC, that is -- all with very respectable basketball programs. The double-header could be staged in EnergySolutions Arena (home of the Utah Jazz). Even if there wasn't a great amount of national interest, die-hard college basketball fans would watch and the Beehive State would be buzzing.
Wisconsin (Big Ten), Marquette (Big East), Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Horizon), Wisconsin-Green Bay (Horizon)
Only four schools, but it works out very well. Pit an upper-echelon Horizon League team -- otherwise known as Butler's conference -- against a good team from a power league in the Bradley Center (home of the Milwaukee Bucks).
13. North Carolina
UNC (ACC), Duke (ACC), Charlotte (Atlantic 10), Davidson (Southern)
Because of the rule I made disallowing more than two teams per conference, Wake and N.C. State are left out in the dark, but the basketball hotbed that is this state can put up two worthy smaller (in basketball stature, at least) schools against two of the nation's elite programs.
14. New York
St. John's (Big East), Syracuse (Big East), Cornell (Ivy League), Siena (Metro Atlantic)
Considering the population and the sheer number of institutions, it's actually a very sad state of affairs when you consider the level of basketball for the state as a whole. Sure, this foursome isn't dreadful, but compare this to Ohio, Texas, North Carolina or California.
Iowa (Big Ten), Iowa State (Big 12), Drake (Missouri Valley), Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley)
There are just four Division I schools, but it works nicely. Plus, the level of play between these four schools is not tied to school size or conference clout. This would really be an event the entire state could get behind.
Alabama (SEC), Auburn (SEC), UAB (Conference USA), South Alabama (Sun Belt)
Not too difficult to figure this one, as these four schools stand head and shoulders above the rest in the state when it comes to athletic prowess. The only problem is we'd be watching them play basketball, not football. On the other hand, these games would be much more competitive than watching the SEC boys pummel the other two in the gridiron.
17. South Carolina
South Carolina (SEC), Clemson (ACC), Winthrop (Big South), College of Charleston (Southern)
South Carolina and Clemson aren't exactly powers, but that only makes it a better idea, because it means the little guys have a legitimate shot at knocking down the big boys. Still, this one is easily one of the weakest states. We could see an argument for Wofford over Charleston now, considering very recent success, but Charleston has a better overall track record.
Illinois (Big Ten), DePaul (Big East), Northwestern (Big Ten), Illinois State (Missouri Valley)
It's actually a pretty sad collective group for the fifth-most populous state in the nation, considering recent track records and even program history. Obviously the Illini are the big fish here and you have to include DePaul just for the sake of including the Big East conference (plus, here's hoping Oliver Purnell can make the Blue Demons relevant again). From there, you could run with Bradley, Southern Illinois, Northwestern, Illinois State or Illinois-Chicago.
Ole Miss (SEC), Mississippi State (SEC), Southern Miss (Conference USA), Jackson State (SWAC)
Obviously, the SEC's Mississippi State and Ole Miss are the draws, but mixing in Southern Miss and Jackson State would make for a fun day of hoops, even if it's really football country. The Magnolia State could also pay tribute to the great Davey Whitney by inviting Alcorn State. Whitney became the first coach at a historically black university to win an NCAA tournament game, defeating South Alabama in 1980.
20. District of Columbia
Georgetown (Big East), George Washington (Atlantic 10), American (Patriot), Howard (Mid-Eastern)
There probably wouldn't be a ton of national attention here, but it feels like the locals would love an event with these four and have a lot of historical pride. The Hoyas are the big draw, but the GW program has some pedigree and American recently won two straight Patriot League crowns. Maybe have the American-Howard game as a primer for GW's attempt at an upset in the finale?
Also considered: Massachusetts, Oregon, Maryland