You can understand why conspiracy theorists believe the committee scripted the Indiana-Kentucky second-round NCAA Tournament matchup. This is one of college basketball's greatest rivalries that's been on hiatus in the regular season since Christian Watford stunned the mighty Wildcats of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in December of 2011. (The two teams played in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament later that year, a 102-90 Kentucky win, but that was obviously not scheduled by either team).
Prior to that 2011 thriller, the Wildcats and Hoosiers played at least once in every year since 1969. The two programs are among college basketball's royalty, regularly compete for recruits and are located fairly close to each other, so one can understand why they always squared off. But that rivalry was also on life support even before Watford's shot.
John Calipari's philosophy once he took over the Wildcats program in 2009 called for a "non-traditional" strategy for putting together Kentucky's schedule. In practice, that meant eschewing traditional home-and-home series for marquee games on neutral courts. Calipari's logic: Kentucky has too much roster turnover to lock itself into long home-and-home contracts, plus neutral games prepare his young players for the NCAA Tournament. As he explained in 2012:
With our nontraditional approach, we are using the entire season to prepare us to compete for national titles. It's not just about winning as many games as we can win or playing as many home games as we can play. There are no road games in the NCAA Tournament. You are in a neutral venue, hopefully with more of our fans than anybody else, and they're in big buildings. Why not prepare for that?
Part of that means you've got to play in big arenas, you've got to play in football stadiums; you've got to do something to get them ready for a Sweet 16 or a Final Four. A lot of teams do not have that opportunity. We do, and we need to take advantage of it.
Calipari therefore pushed for the Hoosiers to accept an arrangement where the annual Kentucky-Indiana game would be played on a neutral court. The Hoosiers preferred a home-and-home series, so after several attempts to restart negotiations, the series died. The two teams have not played since that 2012 NCAA Tournament game.
Occam's Razor suggests this second-round matchup was completely random. The Selection Committee is not supposed to take prior history into account when putting together the bracket. The Hoosiers and Wildcats play in the Big 10 and SEC, respectively, and there are only so many combinations of early-round games that don't put two teams from the same power conference in each other's immediate path.
Then again, both teams can claim that they were badly underseeded. The Hoosiers won the Big 10 regular-season by two full games over Michigan State, who was considered a title favorite until Friday's upset loss to Middle Tennessee State. The Hoosiers did lose early in the Big 10 Tournament, but dropping them to a No. 5 seed based on that loss seems harsh. Kentucky, meanwhile, tied Texas A&M for the SEC regular-season title, beat them in the tournament championship game and still saw the Aggies receive a higher seed. That, too, seems odd. Had both teams received the seeding many thought they deserved, they'd never be on a collision course in the second round.
Yet here they are, forced to play each other again for our benefit. If the committee really did script this matchup, at least we'll be able to enjoy it.