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IU Basketball: A Look Back at Indiana’s Rocky Relationship With the Big Ten Tournament

There are some things in March that you can practically set your watch to.  The weather warms up, some ambitious blooms appear, the birds start chirping, and Purdue chokes in the NCAA tournament.

Ah, what a glorious time it is indeed.

Unfortunately for Indiana fans we have our own unpleasantness to contend with in March — The Big Ten Tournament.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving, year after miserable year whether the Hoosiers are Big Ten champions or just another team.

Today we go back to the very beginning, to a legendary coach that didn’t want to see it happen and then nearly wasn’t allowed to coach in the first game.


There have been suggestions that perhaps Indiana’s ineptitude in the tournament can be attributed to a Bob Knight curse.  There is no doubt that Knight was always unambiguously opposed to the concept of a Big Ten tournament.

Back in 1987, when he was at the pinnacle of his career, and perhaps the pinnacle of his influence, Knight knew the tournament was inevitable.

In a L.A. Times article he said that “they’ll eventually get it through”, speaking of the Big Ten coaches and administrators that were in favor of the tournament.

One of Knight’s main objections was the impact on the schedule.  At the time there were only 10 teams in the Big Ten (how novel) and Knight lamented the fact that a tournament might interrupt the ability of the league to play a true round-robin schedule where every team plays a home and away series with every other team in the conference each year.

“But we’ll be the only conference in the country that doesn’t play a round-robin schedule and I think it’ll be a mistake. There’s going to be two teams that you don’t see play every year.”

Little did he know that the league would ultimately grow to 14 teams.  We’ve since seen the flaws and inequities of not playing a true round-robin schedule and instead going with an imbalanced schedule that can often play a role in determining conference titles.


One of the more infamous moments in a career full of them for Bob Knight occurred just a few days before the first Big Ten tournament.

On February 24, 1998, in a home game against Illinois, Knight received three technical fouls and was ejected from the game after a memorable altercation with referee Ted Valentine.

The primary reason why the incident escalated from bad to downright awful stemmed from a technical foul that was issued by Valentine on Knight for coming out on the floor to check on an injured player.

That player was Luke Recker.  We’ll come back to him later.

As the Big Ten sorted out the fines and suspension related to the Valentine incident, it wasn’t clear whether Knight would be allowed to coach in the Hoosiers’ first ever Big Ten tournament game on March 5, 1998 against Ohio State.

Perhaps the whole Ted Valentine incident was part of a Knight master plan to avoid having to coach in the tournament he so loathed?

Knight had a memorable quote in the Chicago Tribune when he was asked whether he expected to be allowed to coach against the Buckeyes:

“It’s impossible for me to believe, in view of all that took place in that situation and what has or hasn’t been done with other coaches and ejections this year, that there’s any conceivable reason I will not be coaching,” Knight said.

Ultimately Knight was allowed to coach in the game and Indiana beat Ohio State 78-71.

But before Hoosier fans or Knight could get too attached to their new March friend, a second round match-up against Gene Keady and Purdue loomed.

The Boilers won that one 76-71, and so began IU’s hate/hate relationship with the Big Ten tournament.

Bob Knight and Michael Lewis at Indiana’s first Big Ten tournament game in 1998. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


That initial win over Ohio State would mark one of only three times in the now 22 year history of the tournament that Indiana has had a cumulative winning record.  The last time was in 2004 after another win over Ohio State.  Since that game the Hoosiers are 5-16 in the event.

Suffice it to say, Indiana hasn’t had a lot of memorable moments.  But there have been a few.

  • 2001:  This was the only year that Indiana advanced to the championship game.  The real highlight in this year was the Saturday win over Bill Self’s top 5 Illinois team.  The Big Ten tournament being the fickle witch that she can be, the Hoosiers would go on to lose to former IU star Steve Alford and the Iowa Hawkeyes the next day in the final.
  • 2002: The National Championship game bound Hoosiers make it to Saturday again, but there they ran into Iowa.  And Luke Recker.  Never was a last name more appropriate as he hit the game winner.  Recker had transferred from IU after the 1998-99 season and immediately transformed from in-state darling to public enemy number one after ultimately resurfacing at Iowa.
  • 2003:  Indiana strung together a couple wins but found itself down 16 at the half against Illinois on Saturday.  Tom Coverdale caught fire with 19 points in the 2nd half but it wasn’t enough as Illinois held on 73-72.
  • 2013:  The performance in this tournament was ultimately disappointing but we’re desperate here for memorable moments, and who could forget this:

  • 2015:  It was just one win, but Indiana’s victory over Northwestern was likely what punched their ticket for the NCAA tournament.


If you can stand to look, here is the complete history of Indiana in the Big Ten tournament.  In the aggregate they have played 34 games and have a 12-22 record.  IU has only made it to the weekend once since 2003.  It is also interesting to note that Mike Davis owns 7 of IU’s 12 all-time wins.

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