The Hoosiers are coming to Lexington, and there’s nothing John Calipari can do about it.

It may not carry the same emotional stakes as it does on the hardwood, or even the gridiron. But the potential for Indiana and Kentucky to renew one of the more underrated rivalries in college sports on the diamond adds plenty of intrigue to this weekend’s Lexington NCAA Baseball Regional.

And that will have to do for now, because it’s become impossible for the sides to get together without NCAA intervention.

The Hoosiers and Wildcats met annually in football from 1987-2005, playing for the Bourbon Barrel trophy until 1999. Starting with the first meeting in 1893, it’s the rare evenly matched rivalry for a pair of historical football also-rans. Indiana leads the all-time series with an 18-17-1 record.

But the teams haven’t played since that final meeting in 2005.

At least it’s understandable.

Wildcats are guaranteed an annual Power 5 nonconference game with a more meaningful rival in Louisville. And with Indiana playing 9 conference games, the Hoosiers need to be selective about their nonconference schedule. Guaranteeing 1 of 3 games to the same nonconference opponent is bad business.

The football rivalry was a mostly modern phenomenon, going on hiatus from 1927-67 before picking up steam over the next 20 years. It would be nice to see the Hoosiers and Cats get back together, say, 4 times a decade. But it’s not a necessity.

For the basketball rivalry to lie dormant, though, is a crime against college sports.

In the Hoosier State, they like to say “In 49 other states, it’s just basketball. But this is Indiana.”

Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s not quite truth in advertising.

Sure, they also love horse racing in the Bluegrass State. But Kentucky’s mania for basketball is every bit as potent as Hoosier Hysteria. At the grassroots level, these are likely the 2 best basketball states in the country.

You see it fleshed out in the form of the Indiana-Kentucky High School All-Star Games, which have been played annually since 1939. Countless future IU and UK stars have played in the game. But they’re no longer playing each other once they get to IU or UK.

Cal takes his ball and goes home

Christian Watford’s 2011 buzzer-beater over the No. 1 Wildcats is Indiana basketball’s most iconic moment since its 2002 Final Four appearance. But little did Watford realize he was sinking the rivalry at the same time he sank the shot.

After the defeat, Kentucky coach John Calipari insisted on only continuing the series if the teams played at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indiana wanted to continue the home-and-home setup, even if it likely meant taking some lumps at Rupp Arena. Unable to see eye-to-eye, a game that was played every year since 1969 was discontinued.

Calipari’s stated rationale was that he only wanted to take the Cats to nonconference venues that would help simulate an NCAA Tournament atmosphere.

That’s a dodge, of course.

Beating Kentucky — 10 years ago, anyway — gave Indiana a path back into national relevance. Cal has no desire for Indiana to be nationally relevant. Avoiding the Hoosiers can help prolong that process.

Indiana is on its third coach since the series ended. There has been some smoke about Calipari and Mike Woodson trying to renew things, but thus far no fire.

Indiana and Kentucky have met twice in the NCAA Tournament since Watford’s shot, with each side winning a game. But even that hasn’t happened since 2016.

Which leaves fans on both sides of the Ohio River turning their lonely eyes to baseball.

Rivalry renewed?

For these reasons, beating Kentucky for a regional championship would be especially sweet for Indiana fans. The program doesn’t have a bigger nonconference rival. And in this scenario, absence has not made the heart grow fonder.

But as with anything Indiana-Kentucky, there’s a catch.

In this case, it’s that there’s no guarantee of the Cats and Hoosiers crossing paths this weekend.

Indiana isn’t even favored to win its first-round game. The Hoosiers are the No. 3 seed in the regional, opening with No. 2 West Virginia. The Mountaineers were in line to host a regional until dropping their final 5 games.

If the West Virginia team from the rest of the season shows up, the Hoosiers have a heck of a test on their hands.

There’s also a chance of things getting spoiled by a far more unlikely rival.

Kentucky opens with Ball State. If the Cardinals pull off the upset, IU might end up facing an in-state foe that will bring a little-brother chip on its shoulder.

Or the Hoosiers and Cardinals might meet in the elimination round. Which means Indiana could potentially visit Lexington without ever playing Kentucky.

Given how dormant the rivalry is, that somehow feels like the inevitable outcome. But if Indiana and Kentucky finally do cross paths, it will likely remind us that it should be happening much more often.