In 10 days, the men’s basketball team will return to downtown Indianapolis for the second time since a heartbreaking national runner-up finish in 2010.
But when the Bulldogs head back Dec. 15, they won’t face the Associated Press’ third-ranked team, like Duke was that year.
This time, they’ll face No. 1 Indiana University at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
“We’re really excited to get to play them,” junior forward Khyle Marshall said. “We want them to win until the Classic so we can be their first loss.
“But we haven’t really talked about IU yet. We’re still taking it all one game at a time.”
The two squads will be facing off next week in the first game of the second annual Close the Gap Crossroads Classic. Notre Dame and Purdue will play in the later game.
Hoosiers players are equally excited about facing the Bulldogs, especially at Bankers Life.
“It’s such good experience to play at different venues,” said Raphael Smith, a junior guard for the Hoosiers. “We had a lot of people who made it to Brooklyn (for the Progressive Legends Classic), so I imagine a lot (of fans) will make it to Indianapolis.”
Darnell Archey, a former Butler player and the school’s current cordinator of basketball operations, said Indiana’s No. 1 ranking—as well as the addition of Notre Dame in both the AP and USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 polls —brings even more excitement to the event.
“(Having) the four best programs in Indiana all playing at one venue in one day is just huge,” he said. “Growing up in Indiana playing ball, it’s special that these teams get together and play.
“Playing Purdue last year with a tip-in in the final seconds was very emotional and very exciting. I’m sure we’ll see black and gold cheering against IU this year.”
But the event is not just about quality basketball and intriguing matchups. The Classic has a much deeper meaning.
The event’s website says the Classic is meant to raise awareness for heart disease and get people involved in working to prevent it.
“We want our fans to live long, healthy lives and enjoy as many college basketball games as they can,” said Morgan Burke, Purdue’s athletic director. “By partnering with Close the Gap, we can show we care about our fans beyond the basketball court by educating them about heart disease and how to prevent and treat the number one killer of Americans.”
According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the most common killer of American women, African Americans and Latinos, contributing to more deaths in America than any other disease.
Close the Gap is a national initiative created by Boston Scientific—a worldwide developer, manufacturer and marketer of medical devices —that attempts to identify and help at-risk patients and increase awareness of cardiovascular disease risk factors through various outreach events each year.
At last year’s Classic, teams wore lapels on their uniforms to represent awareness of cardiovascular disease.
“As a former player and a fan of college basketball, it’s a really special event for a one-day deal,” Archey said. “This year, it’s going to mean even more because college basketball lost one of its great coaches (last) Saturday.”
Archey was referring to Rick Majerus, who led Utah to the NCAA national title game in 1998. Majerus was taken off life support last Saturday after succumbing to a heart condition. He was 64.
“All of us are at risk for heart disease, which is important (to know) because it is the leading cause of death,” said Karen Halsey, a representative for Close the Gap. “The big takeaway message is, know your risk factors, talk to your doctor and take charge of your heart health.”
In addition to the basketball games and promotions, local cardiologists and other professionals will be in attendance at Bankers Life to answer questions.
The event’s message applies even more to Hoosiers, who are above the national average for two high-risk factors related to cardiovascular disease.
Specifically, 21 percent of Hoosiers smoke, and 66 percent are overweight. The national averages are 17 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
Halsey said information and contests at the event will teach people about heart disease. Even the backside of each game roster will have information on it.
“There are risk factors you can’t control,” Halsey said, “but there are also risk factors you can control. We want to make people cognizant of those risk factors.”
In May, all four schools committed to participating in the event through 2014. At that time, Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier said the school is proud to be part of such a unique event.
Purdue’s, Indiana’s and Notre Dame’s athletic directors all said they’re excited to head back to Indianapolis for this season’s event.
“Indianapolis and Bankers Life Fieldhouse proved to be ideal hosts, and we are fortunate to be able to partner with them again,” said Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame’s athletic director. “College fans were treated to a great day of basketball last year, and I am thrilled all four schools have agreed to extend the contract for two more years.”
Butler will face Indiana at 2 p.m. Purdue and Notre Dame will take the court following the conclusion of that game.
Tickets are sold out, but Close the Gap is hosting a giveaway in which several fans will win tickets to the game.
Fans can visit facebook.com/closethegap to enter.