MIKE LOPRESTI: Add these big sports dates to your pre-Christmas calendar

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mike lopresti sportsAs of Nov. 23, there are only 32 shopping days till Christmas. The schedule can get a little hectic, so here’s a to-do list of things to get done before the holiday. Sports-wise, anyway.

Wish Oscar Robertson a happy 80th birthday.

That’s Nov. 24, according to the how-time-flies dept. It’s been more than six decades since the Big O became the Big O: It started with one loss his final two years at Indianapolis Crispus Attucks High School, helping produce the first perfect season in state high school history. Then breaking the NCAA career scoring record by nearly 400 points at Cincinnati, including the night he went for 45 points, 23 rebounds and 10 assists against Indiana State. The second season in the NBA, when he averaged a triple-double, something no one else would do for 55 years. The long pro career that included 181 triple-doubles, a total still light years ahead of second place.

Then there was the players’ leadership that put Robertson’s name on the anti-trust case leading to free agency in the NBA. So LeBron James will earn $33 million this season. In a 14-year legendary career, Robertson made under $1 million. With business bills to pay, he has auctioned off much of his memorabilia in recent years, from championship rings to jerseys. But if Indiana had a sports Mount Rushmore, he’d be the face in the middle of it.

And now he’s 80?

Watch a high-stakes Old Oaken Bucket game Nov. 24 at Indiana.

Of course, that depends on your definition of “high stakes.” Michigan and Ohio State are playing for the Big Ten East division championship that day. Purdue and Indiana, both 5-6, are playing for … the Pinstripe Bowl? To the victor goes the unbridled joy of knocking the other team out of bowl eligibility. Imagine the dire possibilities for Purdue. The Boilermakers could go from pounding Ohio State by four touchdowns to missing all 39 bowl games. Or is it 40? And then maybe watching their coach go down Interstate 65 to Louisville.

Find out Nov. 25 if the good times—and Andrew Luck touchdown passes—keep coming at Lucas Oil Stadium.

You very rarely see U-turns in the NFL like the one the Colts have made. They’ve transformed a 1-5 crisis into a 5-5 revival, barging into a five-way tie for the second wild card spot. Luck at the moment is such a lock to be voted NFL Comeback Player of the Year that even Florida could count the ballots. Only one of their last six games is against an opponent currently with a winning record. Anything is possible. Next? Miami.

See if Indiana can make a little history Nov. 27 in Durham.

Duke’s winning streak at home against non-conference opponents is now an unfathomable 141 games, going back to 2000. Romeo Langford was 4 months old the last time the Blue Devils were beaten in Cameron Indoor Stadium by a non-ACC team. But he’ll be trying to do that. It’ll be a chance to see the most renowned freshman in Indiana going against Zion Williamson, the most renowned freshman everywhere else.

Welcome all the visitors wearing purple to town on Dec. 1.

That’d be the invading army from Northwestern, where the Wildcats, the Big Ten’s West division champion, have gotten pretty excited about this Big Ten Championship Game business. A generous Northwestern big spender anonymously agreed to pay for any student’s game ticket and travel to Indy. More than 3,400 took the offer— 45 percent of the student body. Matter of fact, the Wildcats sold all 10,000 of their allotted tickets. It’s not amazing to think Northwestern has never been here for this game. It is amazing to think Michigan has never been here, either.

Tune in to the Purdue-Michigan basketball game from Ann Arbor on Dec. 1, when the irresistible force meets the immovable object.

Seems a little early to be talking Big Ten basketball games, but welcome to schedule expansion. This will be Purdue’s Carsen Edwards and his 26.6-point scoring average, going against the Michigan defense, which, in a 5-0 start, held opponents to 47 points a game and a staggering 32.2 shooting percentage.

Drop in on the Crossroads Classic on Dec. 15.

And aren’t we lucky to have it? Purdue, Indiana, Butler and Notre Dame—four teams, two games, one day at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. A lot of states have such a hard time getting their marquee schools to play, you’d think we were talking North and South Korea. Look next door at Ohio. You rarely see Xavier-Dayton or Cincinnati-Dayton. Ohio State just visited Cincinnati for the first time since Prohibition in 1920. Buckeyes Coach Chris Holtmann said he’s open to more of that and suggested trying to get several in-state schools together for some sort of classic. He mentioned his days at Butler and the Crossroads.

Count all the different Pacers uniforms over six home games in 15 December days.

That’s 15 percent of the home schedule in one chunk. A fine time to show they’re serious in the Eastern Conference, be they in white … or gold … or blue … or gray …

Visit Hinkle on Dec. 21.

Mark this down. If Butler’s 46-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents gets snapped this season, this is the night—against UC Irvine, a good team nobody around here knows. Also, Southport’s Joey Brunk—who missed only one of 15 shots in the first three games and whose haircut makes him the betting favorite in any Dirk Nowitzki look-alike contest—might have gone from crowd favorite to full-scale folk hero by then.

Take a last 2018 visit to Lucas Oil Stadium Dec. 23.

The New York Giants. We’ll know by then if the playoff run is real, or if the magic has worn off. And there’s a chance Andrew Luck still won’t have been sacked yet. If the Colts truly do go from 1-5 to the playoffs, maybe there really is a Santa Claus.•

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Lopresti is a lifelong resident of Richmond and a graduate of Ball State University. He was a columnist for USA Today and Gannett newspapers for 31 years; he covered 34 Final Fours, 30 Super Bowls, 32 World Series and 16 Olympics. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at mjl5853@aol.com.

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