Rivalry Matchups We Can't Wait to See in 2014-15 College Basketball Season

Thad NovakCorrespondent IMay 17, 2014

Rivalry Matchups We Can't Wait to See in 2014-15 College Basketball Season

0 of 8

    Cooper Neill/Getty Images

    College basketball lives off its rivalries and not just because they’re the most intense games of the regular season. The teams who have the most history with each other also routinely provide some of the most talent-laden, best-played games of the year.

    Of course, in this era of conference realignment, not all of the best rivalries are longstanding ones. Newfound AAC foes SMU and Connecticut got off to a fast start a year ago—the underdog Mustangs won both games—and this year’s edition will pit Ryan Boatright’s defending national champs against one of the fastest-rising teams in the country.

    Read on for more on why the Huskies and Mustangs will be playing for extra-high stakes, along with seven more of the most intriguing rivalry battles on tap for the 2014-15 season.

Virginia-VCU

1 of 8

    After a long hiatus, the geographic rival between the Cavaliers and Rams could hardly have picked a better time for a home-and-home series.

    Last year’s duel (featuring the eventual A-10 runners-up and ACC champs) came down to the wire, with a long three-pointer from Treveon Graham beating the buzzer to win it for VCU.

    For the rematch, the Rams will have home court to help scoring leader Graham (now a senior) and the Havoc defense that forced 19 turnovers the first time around.

    Of course, UVA will have plenty of defense of its own—three starters return from the No. 1 scoring D in the nation—along with an offense bolstered by the addition of former super-sub Anthony Gill to the starting lineup.

Stanford-California

2 of 8

    USA TODAY Sports

    After a chaotic offseason in the Pac-12, the race for second place behind mighty Arizona looks to be wide-open.

    New Cal coach Cuonzo Martin will get an on-the-fly introduction to one of the best rivalries in all of college sports against a Stanford squad coming off a surprise Sweet 16 trip.

    Both teams have the talent to weather the losses of key seniors, with the Cardinal returning high-scoring Chasson Randle outside and postseason stalwart Stefan Nastic inside.

    The Golden Bears counter with hyper-athletic wings Tyrone Wallace and Jabari Bird, a pairing that will get plenty of help in the middle from rising senior rim-protector David Kravish.

UConn-SMU

3 of 8

    USA TODAY Sports

    The Mustangs fired an impressive opening shot in this new AAC rivalry, sweeping their first-ever season series over the Huskies. For an encore, Larry Brown’s team will try to knock off the defending national champs with the league title likely on the line.

    Despite significant graduation and NBA losses, UConn is the clear favorite in the conference behind the explosive backcourt of rising senior Ryan Boatright and N.C. State transfer Rodney Purvis.

    SMU, for its part, returns three starters and a deep bench from the NIT runners-up, not to mention adding one of the best freshmen in the country: 6’5” point guard Emmanuel Mudiay.

Texas-Oklahoma

4 of 8

    USA TODAY Sports

    For a rarity, basketball’s answer to the "Red River Showdown" could equal the firepower from its football counterpart next season.

    Both the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Longhorns are coming off unexpected success in 2013-14 (including a No. 5 seed for OU in March), and both are piled high with returning stars.

    Rising sophomores Jordan Woodard of Oklahoma and Isaiah Taylor of Texas will provide one of the country’s best point-guard duels. Meanwhile, Sooners rebounding machine Ryan Spangler will be tough to keep off the boards, even for the towering Longhorns.

    The key question for OU is whether its superior outside shooting (led by sniper Buddy Hield) can overcome the interior offense Texas will get from 285-pound Cameron Ridley and 7’0” freshman sensation Myles Turner.

Kentucky-Louisville

5 of 8

    USA TODAY Sports

    Just because this rivalry doesn’t feature the defending national champion—the first time that’s happened in three years—doesn’t mean it won’t be an event worth watching.

    The Kentucky Wildcats will be the overwhelming No. 1 team in the preseason rankings, but this year’s showdown will be on the Louisville Cardinals’ home floor.

    Kentucky, in addition to returning five major contributors from the national runners-up, brings in its usual fleet of star freshmen, led by PF Trey Lyles to anchor the offense.

    Louisville, though, will be loaded on the perimeter, where celebrated recruits Shaqquan Aaron and Quentin Snider join the potent returning duo of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.

Kansas-Kansas State

6 of 8

    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    In recent seasons, even Kansas’ overload of NBA-bound talent hasn’t saved Bill Self from taking tough losses against the rival Kansas State Wildcats.

    This season, the Jayhawks’ usual inexperience is magnified by the loss of transferring PG Naadir Tharpe, likely to be replaced by one of KU’s many promising freshmen, Devonte Graham.

    Bruce Weber’s squad will counter the youngsters with a lineup featuring four returning starters, led by a freshman revelation of their own from 2013-14, scoring machine Marcus Foster.

    Kansas will need plenty of points from its low-post combination of Perry Ellis and freshman Cliff Alexander if it hopes to outpace a K-State squad that’s finally comfortable in Weber’s motion offense.

Michigan-Ohio State

7 of 8

    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Wisconsin looks like the favorite for next year’s Big Ten crown, but if anybody’s going to top the Badgers, Michigan and Ohio State are prime candidates to do it.

    The two storied football foes have seen their basketball rivalry earn its own headlines in the last few years. John Beilein’s defending league champs would love a chance to reprise last season’s 2-0 record over the Buckeyes.

    The key battles here will be on the outside, where OSU vets Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson are joined by versatile freshmen D’Angelo Russell and Keita Bates-Diop.

    Michigan counters with its own highly regarded recruit (Kameron Chatman) and a pair of returnees with big-time scoring punch, slasher Caris LeVert and marksman Zak Irvin.

Duke-North Carolina

8 of 8

    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    At this point, it’s more of a surprise when Duke’s home-and-home with UNC doesn’t have an ACC title and a No. 1 seed on the line.

    The stakes are a safe bet to be that high next year, when both teams will start the year ranked in the top 10, thanks to awe-inspiring recruiting classes.

    The Tar Heels bring in high-scoring wings Theo Pinson and Justin Jackson to provide targets for Wooden Award prospect Marcus Paige at the point.

    For the Blue Devils, role players Amile Jefferson and Rasheed Sulaimon get a new crop of stars to support, thanks to the arrival of top-five freshmen Jahlil Okafor at center and Tyus Jones at point guard.