Predicting Who'll Have the Edge in the Best NCAA Basketball Rivalries in 2013-14
Bloody, vicious, rip-the-other-guy's-heart-out feuds—also known by the faux-diplomatic term "rivalries"—are an integral part of college basketball. At least, they will be until football programs chasing TV dollars all align in geographically schizophrenic conferences stretching from sea to oily sea.
But that shouldn't happen for at least...what, three or four months?
Until then, not every major college rivalry has gone the way of Kansas-Missouri. You know, conference rivals torn asunder and unwilling to meet on a neutral site because a home game against a school with a compound direction or "A&T" in its name produces more profit.
There are still plenty of great rivalries left in college hoops, and we're only highlighting a handful here. Feel free to handicap your winner in any that are left out in the comments. Just have some reasoning, OK? Don't go straight to insulting the writer's mother because he left out Dartmouth vs. Prairie View or something.
With all that out of the way, back to the operative question: Who does have the advantage this season in these 11 (or is it 13?) storied college basketball rivalries?
Arizona vs. UCLA
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The Wildcats and Bruins only face off once this season, and it's early. January 9, to be exact.
That date should be just enough time for new UCLA coach Steve Alford to get his rotation set and Arizona's touted freshmen to find a groove in the college game.
Those freshmen—McDonald's All-Americans Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson—will team with sophomores Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski to form one of the more talented front lines in the country. Either freshman should relish the challenge of guarding UCLA's 6'9" point forward Kyle Anderson.
Alford could try to exploit a size mismatch by using Anderson at the point, but Arizona's new point guard has some devilishly quick hands. Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell averaged nearly three steals per game in each of his two seasons at the Pittsburgh school. For that reason, UCLA's other point guard options—freshman Zach LaVine and coach's kid Bryce Alford—may also struggle with the swarming McConnell.
The shooting guard matchup between UCLA's Jordan Adams and Arizona's Nick Johnson should be well worth the price of admission, with both having 18-PPG potential this season.
In the end, however, the big men may make all the difference.
UCLA's Wear twins have the experience edge over Ashley and Tarczewski, and David Wear put up a pair of solid games (25 points and 17 rebounds combined) against UA last season. Sophomore Tony Parker adds another big body off the bench, but he'll need to produce for a lot more than six minutes per game.
Also, foul trouble plagued Ashley last season, as he drew 5.3 whistles per 40 minutes. Even if Ashley has to ride the bench against the Bruins, however, Gordon can slide to the 4 with Hollis-Jefferson free to wreak defensive havoc at small forward.
Cal vs. Stanford
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The Pac-12 expects to continue its resurgence this season, with up to eight teams harboring legitimate hopes of making the NCAA tournament.
Both Cal coach Mike Montgomery and Stanford's Johnny Dawkins are entering their sixth year on the job, and it's currently advantage Monty. Four of Montgomery's five seasons have ended in the NCAA tournament, with two of his teams advancing past their first game.
Dawkins hasn't piloted the Cardinal to the big dance yet, although Stanford did claim the 2012 NIT title. He has plenty of talent to break the streak this season. Failure to do so, however, could cost him his job.
Seven of Stanford's top eight scorers return, including four regular starters. All-Pac-12 big man Dwight Powell struggled in last season's two meetings with the Bears, shooting only 35 percent. He did, however, drain 14 of 15 free throws in helping the Cardinal to the season sweep.
Cal would love for McDonald's All-American Jabari Bird to step in immediately for Pac-12 player of the year Allen Crabbe. If Bird establishes himself as a confident scorer by the first meeting in January, the Bears will provide a stiff test for Stanford's defense. If not, 6'4" sophomore Tyrone Wallace could break out, provided he remedies his hideous 40.6 true shooting percentage.
That defense occasionally deserted the Cardinal last season, and the offense was only slightly more consistent. Stanford's offensive and defensive field-goal percentages both ranked last in the Pac-12. The undersized backcourt of Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright needs to rebound from a weak shooting season.
Whoever's missing shots, rebounding will be key. Cal's post duo of David Kravish and Richard Solomon will wage a strong battle against Powell and Josh Huestis.
All in all, though, based on last season's results and this year's personnel changes...
Cincinnati vs. Xavier
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Two years ago, Cincinnati and Xavier came to blows. Last season, X shot itself in the foot en route to an ugly neutral-site loss. Actually, considering the Musketeers made only three of 14 free throws, they probably would have also missed the foot and shot out a light.
This season? Xavier might have a shot at the Crosstown Classic victory, since UC is in some flux.
The Bearcats got by on their defense last season, but enter this year without trusted stoppers Cashmere Wright and Chiekh Mbodj. Indomitable shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick returns, but he has offensive struggles of his own to fight through after a sub-40 percent shooting season.
The biggest keys for Cincinnati will be point guard options Ge'Lawn Guyn and Troy Caupain. Why?
Because the two of them would be tasked with containing Xavier's sophomore stud, Semaj Christon. The 'Cats did a fine job of slowing Christon last season, holding him to six points, but Wright and the also-departed JaQuon Parker did most of the lifting.
Christon needs some offensive support, and the first options will likely be forwards Justin Martin and Isaiah Philmore. Philmore is a former 15.3-PPG man at Towson who scored in double figures seven times over Xavier's final 11 games last season. That included a double-double against Butler.
Conversely, Martin racked double figures in the first eight games last year, then only four times the rest of the season. Newcomers Myles Davis, Brandon Randolph, Jalen Reynolds and Matt Stainbrook—the latter a multiple-time double-double producer at Western Michigan—will also be counted on for scoring.
The Bearcats still have experienced athletes in Titus Rubles and Justin Jackson, and also add top-25 forward Jermaine Marshall. They should still have enough ability, experience and grit to see their rivals off for another year. This year's game will be closer than last December's, though.
Duke vs. North Carolina
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There simply is no equal. Duke and North Carolina go to war every time they step on the court.
This season, UNC appears to have the heavy low-post artillery, while Duke will rely on kamikaze slashing runs from a gifted group of wing players.
Six of Carolina's 11 scholarship players stand 6'8" or taller. While Duke has five such players, the Devils have no true giants to compare with 285-pound freshman Kennedy Meeks or 260-pound sophomore Joel James. For that matter, 230-pound forward James Michael McAdoo would be a behemoth on this Duke team.
The problem there is that Meeks is still doing a great deal of conditioning work and James showed very little offensive proficiency last season.
For his part, McAdoo is a potential All-American if he can flash his best form every night. He carded nine double-doubles last season, but averaged a mere four rebounds per game over the Tar Heels' final nine.
Duke lacks those mules inside, unless sophomore Marshall Plumlee suddenly channels brother Mason's all-conference form from last season. Still, freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood can both produce from anywhere on the court.
UNC point guard Marcus Paige couldn't throw a shot in the Eno River last season, shooting a mere 35 percent from the floor. Similar struggles could see him cede time to freshman Nate Britt. And neither can expect any favors from Duke's veteran duo of Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton.
Carolina's primary scoring options, outside of McAdoo, will be wings P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald. Even if those two can get their points, can they slow Duke shooters Andre Dawkins, Rasheed Sulaimon and Matt Jones?
Unless UNC can drag the Devils into the paint and pummel them into submission, Duke could be looking at a season sweep. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team simply has answers for everything other than sheer bulk.
Gonzaga vs. St. Mary's
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The West Coast Conference may never have it as good as it did last season. Gonzaga climbed to No. 1 in America and secured a top seed in the NCAA tournament, but faceplanted with a first-weekend loss to Wichita State.
The 2013-14 Zags will dearly miss departed stars Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, but archrival Saint Mary's suffered arguably one of the biggest losses in America.
Do-everything point guard Matthew Dellavedova started 132 games over four years in Moraga, and his graduation will sting. The Gaels do return five of their top seven scorers, including three double-digit men.
Versatile senior Stephen Holt or fifth-year man Jorden Page will likely get shots at running the offense. Forward Beau Levesque and center Brad Waldow were tremendously efficient scorers last season and will see larger shares of the attempts with Dellavedova gone.
While Waldow is a burly dude at 6'9" and 260 pounds, he's a point guard compared to Gonzaga's 7'1", 300-pound Pole, Przemek Karnowski. Between Karnowski and 250-pound Sam Dower, the Bulldogs will feature a more physical post duo than what Olynyk and Harris ever were.
Gonzaga's backcourt also has the ability to dominate a game. Juniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. are entering their third season together, and the two will take on a larger scoring load to open chances for the bigs.
Finally, GU welcomes Providence transfer Gerard Coleman, a former double-digit scorer in the Big East who should transition well to the WCC.
St. Mary's can still do what no one could last season and deal Gonzaga a conference loss. To do it, though, the Gaels will need to harass Pangos and Bell while simultaneously wearing out Karnowski and getting Levesque some good looks. Doing all of that at once is easier said than done.
Illinois vs. Missouri
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At least Missouri can still get a neutral-site game on the east side of the state, eh?
Unlike Kansas, which apparently never wants to see the Tigers in Kansas City again, Mizzou and Illinois will keep the Braggin' Rights series going in St. Louis for the foreseeable future.
If you go, get a program, because these two teams are very different from the ones that tipped off last December. Missouri brings back only two of last season's six double-figure scorers, while Illinois brings back only three scholarship players in total.
Missouri got heavily into the transfer market last season, with four seeing action and one becoming eligible this year. Top returnees Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Jabari Brown (Oregon) started their careers elsewhere, and ex-Tulsa player Jordan Clarkson will be counted on for support.
The Illini augment point guard Tracy Abrams and last season's bench spark Joe Bertrand with transfers Rayvonte Rice (Drake) and Jon Ekey (Illinois State). Rice was a career 15-point scorer over two seasons at Drake. Ekey will provide additional shooting and some rebounding support.
Departed Illinois scoring machines Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson will need to be replaced by freshmen, with 6'3" Kendrick Nunn and 6'6" Malcolm Hill the primary candidates.
While the Tigers have strong wing talent in Brown, Ross and Clarkson, they lack proven performers at point guard and center. Those happen to be the only spots where the Illini have experience, in the form of Abrams and big man Nnanna Egwu.
Still, if anyone can rebound for Missouri—and with four guys 6'9" or taller, one would hope somebody is capable—that wing trio should be able to score enough to pull off the Tigers' fifth straight win in this series.
Indiana vs. Purdue
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In the category of "Stuff That the Big Ten Conference Needs to Ensure Never Happens Again," this season's scheduling of only one matchup between Indiana and Purdue ranks near the top.
When the two do face each other on February 15, the score should be much closer than the combined 65 points' worth of smackdown that IU put on the Boilermakers last season.
The 2013-14 Hoosiers appear to be a very rich man's version of the 2012-13 Boilermakers, a team featuring precious few upperclassmen and needing big performances from a good-looking freshman class.
Purdue has a slight size advantage, primarily embodied by 7-foot sophomore A.J. Hammons. The 280-pound manchild scored 30 points and blocked five shots in Purdue's first loss to Indiana, then slumped to a mere six points in the rematch.
His likely marker would be freshman Noah Vonleh, who measures a substantial 6'9" and 240 himself. While Vonleh isn't the proven collegiate producer that Hammons is, we also have yet to see Vonleh prove himself lazy, which Hammons did altogether too often for Purdue fans' liking.
At point guard, touted Boiler sophomore Ronnie Johnson renews hostilities with former Indianapolis high school rival Yogi Ferrell. Johnson shot 30 percent and committed eight turnovers in last year's meetings.
For veteran leadership, IU turns to senior swingman Will Sheehey, who was a perfect 9-of-9 from the floor against the Boilers at Assembly Hall.
Purdue senior guard Terone Johnson shot 7-of-18 combined in the two games, but averaged 15.6 PPG over his final 11. Still, no one will ever confuse the laid-back Johnson's leadership style with that of the fiery Sheehey.
The Boilermakers have an experience advantage to go with their size, but IU still appears to have the superior athletes. When in doubt, go with the best player on the court, and that currently appears to be Noah Vonleh.
Just don't expect another 37-point blowout, Hoosier fans.
Iowa vs. Iowa State
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Another year, another crop of transfers pulling into Iowa State Station. This time, three new Cyclones join by way of junior colleges and only one comes from another Division I program.
That D-I transfer, however, was an All-Conference USA performer. Guard DeAndre Kane scored at least 15 PPG in each of his seasons at Marshall and proved a highly capable point guard last year, averaging seven assists per contest.
ISU coach Fred Hoiberg will have some flexibility in his backcourt, with the option to use the 6'4" Kane at either guard spot. If former walk-on Bubu Palo proves able to run the point, Kane will excel at the 2. Fans should feel good about Palo's chances after he crushed ISU's summer league for 30 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists per game.
Add some backcourt scoring punch to indefatigable forward duo Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang, and the Cyclones have what it takes to overcome losing four of their top six scorers.
But can the new pieces come together quickly enough to avenge last season's loss to intrastate rival Iowa?
The Hawkeyes have both enviable quantity and improving quality on this season's roster. Forward Aaron White and guard Roy Devyn Marble provide the scoring punch, and it should surprise no one if both end up on an All-Big Ten team at season's end. Also, Wisconsin transfer Jarrod Uthoff will provide a dangerous option on the wing.
Senior banger Melsahn Basabe teamed with White to neutralize Ejim in last season's matchup, fouling him out after only 13 minutes. Basabe and junior center Gabe Olaseni provide the bulk off the bench behind 7-foot sophomore Adam Woodbury. Woodbury averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds per 40 minutes last season, and ISU will have no answer for his length inside.
Where the Cyclones can press an advantage is at the point. Hawkeye sophomores Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons learned on the job last season, but both struggled with their shots. Kane and Palo could harass them into some foolish turnovers.
If the Hawkeyes can take care of the ball, though, their experience together should be enough to overcome ISU's Hilton Magic.
Louisville vs. Kentucky
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The Commonwealth of Kentucky is home to the last two national championship trophies, and entering this season, we should all like the state's chances of making it three straight.
Comparing one Kentucky team to the year before is becoming a worthless exercise as John Calipari continues to reload with McDonald's All-Americans every season. Still, sophomores Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein return to augment a whopping eight-man freshman class.
Cauley-Stein finished strong after Nerlens Noel went down with a torn ACL, but Poythress did not. He averaged only 8.2 PPG over UK's final 13, becoming an afterthought in the offense. It won't be surprising if he fades into the background again this season.
Forwards Julius Randle and Marcus Lee have plenty of interior scoring potential, while swingman James Young may emerge from day one as one of the SEC's premier shooters. Guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison can both create from anywhere on the court, and if they play well with others, the UK offense will be very scary.
None of this is to denigrate Louisville, however. Coach Rick Pitino is in the Hall of Fame for a reason, and that's because few are better at tailoring a game to fit the opponent. Against a Kentucky team full of Ferraris, the Cardinals can take the game off-road and muddy up Big Blue's tires.
All-American guard Russ Smith can torment a defense like few others, but the 18-PPG scorer can harass offensive players, too. A sizable chunk of those points come from easy layups off steals.
The Harrisons will have a major size advantage over the 6-foot-nothing Smith, but the non-conference schedule may not prepare them for Smith's quickness and tenacity. Junior Wayne Blackshear, a 6'5", 230-pound athletic freak, will be handy to make the Harrisons pick on someone their own size.
The Cards will combat UK's young bigs with the burly and experienced trio of junior Chane Behanan, sophomore Montrezl Harrell and senior Stephan Van Treese. For all the pro buzz that the new Wildcats are generating, Harrell is a potential lottery pick in his own right.
The December 28 meeting should be one of the top non-conference games of the entire season. If new Louisville guards Chris Jones, Terry Rozier and Anton Gill are ready to support Smith and not fade under the spotlight, the Cards can win this meeting. It's a hot light, though.
Slight Advantage: Kentucky
Marquette vs. Wisconsin
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It seems like every season starts with Wisconsin's roster looking decimated by graduation losses. This year's no different, with the entire starting frontcourt of Ryan Evans, Jared Berggren and Ryan Bruesewitz gone.
When Marquette comes to the Kohl Center on December 7, a new clan of Badgers will be tasked with slowing the Golden Eagles' skilled group of bigs. Davante Gardner, Chris Otule and Jamil Wilson averaged a combined 26 points and 13 rebounds last season and should be in line for even greater production this year.
Junior college transfer Jameel McKay and freshman Deonte Burton will add scoring punch.
The Badgers may not have a ton of size up front, but they will boast potential All-Big Ten selection Sam Dekker and 6'11" stretch man Frank Kaminsky. Dekker scored in double figures nine times in UW's final 12 games. Every time he's held to less than 10 this season will be a surprise.
Marquette's frontcourt advantage is sizable, but Wisconsin's guards make up for it with quality experience.
Junior Josh Gasser returns after missing last season due to injury. He's likely to take the point guard position he was expected to run last year. Shooting guard Ben Brust showed a tremendous flair for the dramatic when he drained a miracle shot to push Michigan to overtime.
Reserves Traevon Jackson and George Marshall were hardened by a year of on-the-job training.
For the Eagles' backcourt, the highest upside comes from freshmen Duane Wilson and JaJuan Johnson. Juniors Derrick Wilson and Todd Mayo are capable of starting if the kids aren't ready.
If the freshmen do hit the ground running, MU could win going away. If not, expect a close affair from start to finish. Either way, though, it doesn't appear that the Badgers have enough bulk to bang in this game.
Of course, we question the Badgers every year, and where does that get us?
Michigan vs. Michigan State vs. Ohio State
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This is an always-entertaining three-way dance between Big Ten schools that simply don't like each other. Perhaps it's a copout to group them together, but which rivalry stands out from the other two?
Especially since these will be your top three contenders in the B1G this season.
Michigan State's big man and shooting guard—Adreian Payne and Gary Harris, respectively—are the best among these three schools, if not in the entire conference. The downside there will be that the Spartans don't have a lot of post support for Payne unless guys like Matt Costello, Kenny Kaminski and true frosh Gavin Schilling do some serious work.
Michigan has the bulk to lean on their opponents, but last season the Wolverines were best with what essentially looked like a four-guard offense. Glenn Robinson III at power forward wasn't an ideal arrangement, but the other candidates (Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford) aren't exactly high-potency scorers.
A guy who could be a strong scorer is UM's sophomore center Mitch McGary. The darling of the NCAA tournament, McGary needs to keep that form going to rise up to his all-conference potential.
Ohio State won't find the 20 PPG that Deshaun Thomas generated from just one player. With plenty of wing and guard talent, there will be scoring on hand, but it should be generated more by committee.
With Michigan's Trey Burke now in the NBA, Aaron Craft arguably assumes the perch as the conference's top point guard. MSU's Keith Appling would argue, since each took a turn stifling the other and their third meeting was a push.
Michigan will use either sophomore Spike Albrecht or freshman Derrick Walton to replace Burke, and either one will have his hands full with Craft. Or Appling, for that matter.
Overall, MSU is considered a Final Four contender and should have advantages over both of these rivals. Don't be surprised, however, if all three are in or near the top 10 at season's end.
Advantage (MSU-UM): Michigan State
Advantage (MSU-OSU): Michigan State
Advantage (UM-OSU): Ohio State
For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron.