Last night, I once again watched ESPN's annual greatest contribution to the world—Rivalry Week. While watching the Duke/North Carolina game and talking to my Duke friend (And no, I hate both teams but love the game), we concluded that the game is just missing that special something it had in the mid-2000s until 2009.
The players who were involved in those epic matchups have either gone on to pro careers or have been massive busts (see: May, Shawn). And this year, while being a decent basketball game, just seemed like a B version of what it could be.
There was no one to hate.
In past years, we had JJ Reddick, Psycho T, Greg Paulus, and others providing fuel to both teams supporters' fire of hate. As annoying as Jon Schyer and Kyle Singler might be to college fans, face it they are not nearly as hateable as Paulus and Hansborough.
And don't get me started about North Carolina's young no-name roster this year.
When your star senior is Marcus Ginyard, you are having a down year.
The game was intense, but it felt like everyone involved knew it wasn't the same, and I was more entertained by the flashbacks than the game on the court.
So it got me thinking, what makes a great rivalry in college basketball?
If two teams are in the same state—or even better the same area—it makes for a much better rivalry. This is a given, but the fan bases of both teams should have to hear it when their team loses a game and the winners should get to have bragging rights in the area for the year.
Examples: Every rivalry in the NCAA
A rivalry must be competitive or it is just sad to see.
A team can dominate a rivalry for a long period of time if the games are close, but there is a reason why DePaul has no Big East Rivals, because they don't play anyone close enough to make it entertaining.
Rivalries should have periods of dominance, but they also need to be back and forth. One team beating on their rival gets sad and well, boring after awhile if two teams always have an unpredictable game. It makes that rivalry special.
Examples: Duke-UNC, Kentucky-Louisville
3. Can't be a football rivalry
Basketball rivalries just can't be carried over from football rivalries, and vice versa.
It just doesn't work.
Ohio State-Michigan is a great football rivalry, but isn't the best basketball rivalry. If a rivalry is identified with one sport, the same rivalry is just not as meaningful in the other sport. It lacks that special feeling of life or death that makes a rivalry great.
Examples: Ohio State-Michigan, Tennessee-Florida
Exceptions: Kentucky-Louisville, Pittsburgh-West Virginia
2. Hated Players
Every rivalry must have hated players.
It just is a must.
Would Duke-UNC have became as big as it has without hated players from both sides? Every rivalry has to have a player that the opposing fans cannot stand, and will boo that player until their voices give out.
SEC fans hated Florida's stacked class when it went on its back to back run, and it gave those games extra intensity whenever Florida went into their gym.
Hate is what rivalries run on.
The players that can earn that kind of hate go down in college basketball lore as the truly memorable.
1. History and Stories
Rivalries need history and games that give stories to pass down from generation to generation. Its what separates a rivalry from a conference game: those stories give fans bragging rights and makes the game special whenever those two familiar teams clash. Its what makes fans scream and hell, hoping that their team doesn't give their rivals a moment to talk about forever.
It adds that urgency.
Duke and North Carolina has been the best rivalry in college basketball for 20 years and it's because of those five things being involved in it in such big ways; a great college rivalry is a perfect combination of those five things.
While you watch the rest of Rivalry Week, take into consideration what makes those games truly special.
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