TODD AARON GOLDEN: Kaufman's call? It's so obvious it's ISU

News-And-TribuneStandout recruit: Silver Creek's Trey Kaufman drives the lane in a game against North Harrison.

Trey Kaufman, the hot basketball prospect from Silver Creek High School, narrowed his college basketball choices down to a quintet on Tuesday.

It's 2020, so these things are done via tricked-up videos on Instagram. Kaufman chose to display his choices with college logos on the bottom of a stylized picture of himself.

You had Purdue's gold P. The crossed sabers of Virginia. The iconic UNC of North Carolina and the equally recognizable interlocking IU of Indiana University. 

Bluebloods all, but joining them, like Rocky fighting off four Apollo Creed's, was the stylized blue state of Indiana logo representing Indiana State University. (Points, by the way, for using the new logo, which has sadly only had maybe one legitimate usage apart from this since it was introduced in March.)

This is where someone is supposed to say one of these is not like the others. This is also where media types at the blueblood schools jockeying for Kaufman gush in patronizing tones towards both Kaufman and the ISU program by saying stuff like it's really neat that Kaufman included the Sycamores in with the sharks.

It is nothing but a win-win for ISU to be mentioned in the same company as two in-state Big Ten schools and two national title contenders. No matter where Kaufman ultimately plies his trade, there is zero down side that Kaufman kept ISU as one of his final choices. House money.

It's also a testament to how ISU coach Greg Lansing makes the talent he recruits, and gets, feel comfortable here. ISU offered Kaufman two years ago and they've maintained good relations.

Also remember that, in a day and age where players move around? ISU has not lost a single impactful player in the "transfer" era. ISU has kept its best players in-house, which can't be said for most of the rest of the Missouri Valley Conference programs, even Wichita State when it was still around.

Wait ... stop. The above paragraphs sound like a concession speech. Like an Oscar nominee just happy to be mentioned in the same breath as supposedly more accomplished peers.

Naw. Indiana State is so clearly the choice for Kaufman. I'll bet Matt Painter, Archie Miller, Tony Bennett and Roy Williams were dreading the day they finally had to mix it up with the Sycamores for a recruit.

It's so obvious, I shouldn't even have to write about it, but let's illustrate why ISU rises above the flotsam. We'll take each school individually.

Indiana — Many Hoosier-raised school kids watch IU and dream about putting on those candy-striped warm-ups, playing under the famous five NCAA championship banners, cheered on by the cream-and-crimson faithful.

However, that dream becomes betrayal and deceit when Indiana State plays Indiana in men's basketball. 

Let's look at the last time the Sycamores and Hoosiers met. It was Nov. 10, 2017. It was the first game of the freshly-minted Miller regime in Bloomington. Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall looked resplendent with its then-recently completed renovations. It was all set up to be a welcome party with the Sycamores served up as punch.

Only that didn't happen. ISU, who finished 13-18 that season I should add, squared up to the Juwan Morgan-led Hoosiers and clocked them in the mouth.

The Sycamores led by 21 at halftime. The ISU lead peaked at 30 on their way to a 90-69 thrashing, trouncing, dusting, licking, shellacking, drubbing, bashing, (scrolls through thesaurus.com for more fun words), pasting, flaying, cratering, boat-racing, wood-shedding, dump-trucking, draw-and-quartering (probably not an actual phrase, forget it, I'm rolling), tar-and-feathering, hydrogen bomb nuking, mushroom-cloud laying of the Hoosiers in their own crib.

Some might say it was a fluke. No sir. ISU has beaten Indiana four of the last six times the Sycamores have played them since 1999, two wins each in Bloomington and Terre Haute. Trey, your Uncle Matt Renn played for the Sycamores in two of those victories.

Maybe Indiana school kids should dream of donning ISU blue? They'd win more often. (Shoves Indiana's win-loss record and ISU's W-L record since 1999 conveniently out of view.)

Purdue — I will never say anything bad about Painter because he's a good dude. Nor will I say anything disparaging about Purdue's campus or West Lafayette. I took my son up there last weekend for an informal visit. Triple XXX burgers are, indeed, legit.

However, facts are facts. Since 1979, here's the Final Four scoreboard between the Boilermakers and Sycamores:

— Final Four appearances: ISU 1, Purdue 1.

— Final Four record: ISU 1-1, Purdue 1-1.

Those 1-1s aren't created equally. Purdue's only Final Four win since 1969 came in a 1980 third-place Final Four game, a concept so horrifying the NCAA swept it into the dustpan of history one year later.

ISU won its national semifinal and played for the brass ring. I like winners. Advantage Sycamores. (Purdue might say they've been to 29 NCAA Tournaments to ISU's three since 1979. Pssh. Trivial, trifling matters.)

And the Boilers aren't immune to ISU beatdowns either. The last time Purdue visited Hulman Center, with future NBA player Carl Landry in tow in 2006, they went home on the wrong end of an 89-70 spanking against a Sycamore team that also finished 13-18. It begs the question why ISU even lowers itself to play these Big Ten minnows?

Virginia — True, the 'Hoos are sort of the defending national champions. True, they've been a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament seven times.

ISU has only been a No. 1 seed once, but you see, when the Sycamores are a No. 1 seed? They do the job right. They faced Virginia Tech in 1979 and summarily drop-kicked them 86-69 on their way to bigger and better things. Done and dusted.

The Cavaliers may have won the 2019 national title as a top-seed, but forget that, it's not important, because they will never live down 2018 when they lost to No. 16-seed UMBC, which, I could be wrong, is the acronym for a merged bank in Maryland. Not only did they lose, UVa got humiliated by 20.

If that's not enough, this line from Virginia's men's basketball Wikipedia page is a deal-breaker, "They have been called the Cavaliers [their italics] since 1923, predating the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA by half a century."

Cool story, bro.

North Carolina — ISU and UNC haven't crossed paths much. Never played each other. Don't even wear the same hue of blue. The Tar Heels oddly have a ram as a mascot. The Sycamores even more bizarrely have a space rodent.

North Carolina boasts Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball alum any university can claim. Hard to top.

Well, guess what? ISU also boasts an iconic alum in Larry Bird. In 1986, Bird's Boston Celtics faced Jordan's Chicago Bulls in the first round of the NBA playoffs. And while Jordan famously scored 63 in one of the games, the Celtics swept 3-0. One year later? The Celtics swept the Bulls again.

Bird was 6-0 against Jordan in head-to-head playoff matchups. I mean, if kids born in the 2000s don't make their college choices based on 1980s NBA playoff series? What kind of world are we living in?

So I've been engaging in some negative recruiting, poking fun at the competition, who so clearly don't stack up. Let's talk positive for a second.

At those other schools? They have the fancy resumes. They get the five- and four-star studs. It's an intoxicating atmosphere. However, at those schools you are *a* guy competing amongst many other guys.

At Indiana State, you are the guy. The guy to build around, not a building block.

Your Uncle Matt played on two NCAA Tournament teams. He and his teammates remain household names among ISU fans 20 years later and will remain so forever. Not very many players on the 2000-era versions of the other teams stay memorable in quite the same way.

The choice seems clear to me. ISU checks all of the boxes. Who wants to live forever?

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.

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