Two of college basketball's two biggest icons collided (and continue to collide) in Philadelphia this week, as No. 5-seeded Indiana prepared to play in the Sweet 16's Eastern Regional Friday night.
The Hoosiers -- hailing from Indiana's basketball-crazy landscape (and namesakes for one of the best sports movies of all times starring Gene Hackman) became honorary members of the Big 5 when they practiced at the Mecca of college hoops.
"We had a great day today we went and practiced at the Palestra," Indiana head coach Tom Crean said Thursday afternoon. "They understand how great that is, it's a bucket list thing for me to be able to get in there."
The Palestra on UPenn's campus is a special place for Big 5 basketball fans and college basketball purists alike. But it's not the only hallowed ground in the sport. The other -- the Spectrum -- isn't around anymore.
"When you look at the National Championships that have been won here, they've heard about that this week," Crean said, alluding to the Hoosiers' titles in 1976 and 1981 and his current players. "I wish we could take them to tour the Spectrum. We should take a picture outside in the lot there.
"They know the history. The Sports Illustrated cover of Isiah Thomas hangs in our locker room as a full sized poster. They are basketball fans. They understand that Philadelphia is one of the great basketball cities in the world not just the United States."
Philadelphia, aside from being home to Temple, St. Joseph's, La Salle, UPenn, Drexel and the South's No. 2 seed Villanova (vying for a Final Four spot), has also been the site of many memorable NCAA Tournament moments.
In addition to the Hoosiers' National Championships in Philadelphia back in the Bob Knight era, The Dance has been played here 28 times. The Spectrum also memorably saw Christian Laettner's improbable buzzer beater at the Spectrum in 1992.
What a better place to continue a run for a title.
"Not just because of the history but the way people keep honoring the tradition of the great teams that have played here," Crean said, "and all the great coaches and players who have come from this area."
The Irish's head coach Mike Brey feels the same way.
"A lot of memories from across the parking lot in that old Spectrum and certainly I spent a lot of time in it," the coach said, "even when I was down the road in Newark, Delaware. But I have a lot of respect for Philadelphia basketball. Growing up in the corridor on 95 and the history here, not only in the NCAA Tournament, but this is a basketball city."
Indiana and UNC tip off at approximately 9:40 Friday night, following the conclusion of No. 7 Wisconsin facing No. 6 Notre Dame, which begins at 7:10 p.m at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I'm energized being back in the city and I'm really proud that I can bring my team here," Brey said.