The 11 Most Intense Bitter Rivalries in College Basketball
College basketball boasts some of the biggest rivalries in sports. Decades of pure hatred fuel these bitter matchups, and when these teams play, things get heated.
Many of these games are showcased during Rivalry Week, which is arguably the most exciting week of the season.
The bad blood between these teams makes their games special to watch, and these are the most bitter rivalries in the college basketball world.
11. Saint Mary's vs. Gonzaga
Once upon a time Gonzaga University ruled the West Coast Conference with an iron fist, and teams like Saint Mary's College were just afterthoughts.
Saint Mary's Gaels have prevailed in recent years in this bitter rivalry, taking control of the conference. This was seen in last year's WCC tournament finals, in which Saint Mary's won 78-74 in overtime.
While they don't get much attention from the media, this rivalry is as heated as any in the country.
10. Kansas vs. Kansas State
The Sunflower Showdown began in the early 1900s, and has developed into one of the best in-state rivalries in the college game today.
The University of Kansas has dominated the Big 12 in recent years, winning eight straight regular season titles and 10 of the last 11. However, the Kansas State Wildcats have always put up a fight, keeping the rivalry alive.
The rivalry was at its finest in the 1950s, when both schools were constantly competing for national titles. However, it is still alive today, and the atmosphere surrounding this matchup is electric.
9. The Big Five
The Big Five of University of Pennsylvania, La Salle University, St. Joseph’s University, Temple University and Villanova University are the backbone of college sports in the city of Philadelphia, and they all have bitter rivalries on the hardwood.
While the Holy War between St. Joe's and Nova is arguably the biggest of any of these rivalries, all five schools compete for bragging rights within their own city.
Whenever these teams meet it gets intense, due in part to the fact that many games are played in the Palestra, which is known as the “Cathedral of College Basketball.”
What more could you ask of the city of Brotherly Love?
8. Ohio State vs. Michigan State
It's tough to pick between rivalries in the Big Ten when it comes to the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin and Ohio State University. These four teams always put on a show, but I'd say that the top rivalry is between the OSU Buckeyes and Michigan State Spartans.
These two go at it when it matters most. Not only do they play in the regular season, but they've met in the Big Ten conference tournament quite a few times in recent years.
It helps that the two schools are always among college basketball's elite. Once again this year they will both be Top 25 teams and could have very similar rankings come March.
Tom Izzo and Thad Matta are great coaches with great programs that make up this great rivalry. What more can I say?
7. Syracuse vs. Georgetown
Arguably the biggest rivalry in the Big East today, Syracuse University and Georgetown University are bitter rivals in every sense of the word.
The fanbases, players, coaches, and everyone else involved hates the other team, which has led to some pretty nasty moments over time.
Perhaps the biggest was when the Syracuse Orange hosted the Georgetown Hoyas for the final game in Manley Field House. The Orange bolted out to an early lead, but the Hoyas pulled off a huge comeback to steal the victory. After the game, Georgetown coach John Thompson II grabbed a microphone and proclaimed that “The Manley Field House is officially closed!”
That was a bold move, and it helped fuel the rivalry for years to come.
6. New Mexico vs. New Mexico State
The Rio Grande rivalry dates back to the 1800s, and the two schools have battled it out in every varsity sport since then.
The environment surrounding these games is incredibly competitive, especially considering that the two teams play in different conferences. The basketball programs meet twice a year, despite not playing in the same conference.
However, what really sets this rivalry apart is the fact that the two schools compete in every varsity sport they can and award the winner points for each victory. At the end of the year the the school with the most points wins.
5. Indiana vs. Purdue
Assembly Hall and Mackey Arena have hosted the biggest rivalry in the state of Indiana for years. Indiana has a rich tradition of basketball history, and it's only logical that the state's two biggest programs are rivals.
Although you might think that the Indiana Hoosiers have the edge in the series if you look at each team's historical success, Purdue University actually owns the edge by a margin of 110-85.
The Hoosiers are slimming the gap, winning both games last season and trying to do so again this year, but there's no denying that Purdue has gotten the better of Indiana in the 195 games they've played.
Big Ten rivalries are fierce, and so is the passion for the game in Indiana. It's no wonder that this rivalry gets heated every time the two teams play.
4. Cincinnati vs. Xavier
The annual Crosstown Shootout has a long history, but all anyone remembers is last season's game, which erupted into a brawl on the court and the game being called off early due to the incident.
There is a lot of bad blood between these two programs, and the fight epitomized it. However, the rivalry dates back to 1927, and became an annual event in 1946. The University of Cincinnati leads the series 48–31, but Xavier University has won 11 of the last 15, including last year's contest.
There's just a 10 minute drive between campuses, and that simply isn't enough ground. The two fanbases see each other much too often in their own opinions, which sparks utter hatred toward the other side.
The teams only meet once a year, but when they do you don't know what will happen.
3. Kansas vs. Missouri
This rivalry may be in danger of going extinct now that the University of Missouri is in the SEC, but there is no denying that this great rivalry had one heck of a run.
Dating back to the Civil War, when there were several conflicts in the states between pro- and anti-slavery, the two states have a long history.
Starting in 1907 the two states settled their differences on the basketball court in a rivalry known as the Border War.
The University of Kansas owns the rivalry, winning 172 of the 267 games played between the two schools, and winning the last game by a single point in overtime.
While there is the question of whether or not this rivalry will continue, it has a great history and is among the best in the college basketball world.
2. Kentucky vs. Louisville
Arguably the biggest rivalry in college basketball, the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky fight for basketball control in the bluegrass state. The two storied programs are always national contenders, which makes the rivalry all the more bitter.
It all started in 1992, when Calipari (then with the University of Massachusetts) went to a press conference before a Sweet 16 matchup with Louisville and wore a Rick Pitino mask while impersonating the Louisville coach.
Not a smart move.
Now, 20 years later, there is still tension between the two coaches, especially since Kentucky won the game.
This rivalry is always in the spotlight, although the teams only meet once a year in the regular season. However, last year the two met in the Final Four, with UK winning the game once again.
This year Louisville is ranked No. 2 in the country and Kentucky No. 3, which means this should be the year's top rivalry game.
1. Duke vs. North Carolina
The eight miles that separate Duke University and the University of North Carolina is just a short bus ride away, and seeing each other everyday makes this rivalry even more passionate.
The Battle for Tobacco Road is the best rivalry in college basketball history, and twice a year we see the two elite programs do battle (and this rivalry is more like a war than any other, thanks to the level of violence).
When you think about Duke-UNC you think of the buzzer-beaters and barn burners; the historic coaches; images of players bloodied and bruised after the game (particularly Tyler Hansbrough after getting hit with a Gerald Henderson elbow).
There's a reason why this rivalry is showcased every time it's played, and that's the unpredictablity of it. Whether its Austin Rivers hitting a game-winning three or UNC blowing out Duke on Senior Night, this rivalry is always a pleasure to watch.