College Basketball Rivalries: 25 of the More Interesting Battles
Rivalries are a great thing. Even when the playing field doesn’t appear to be level, for one game and maybe only one game, teams can overachieve and make what would otherwise be a forgettable season a memorable one.
The factor that most influences the rivalry is geography, followed closely by football, which has rivalries that predate any that basketball can claim.
In fact, many of the nicknames used by gridiron counterparts have been, uh, “borrowed” to now include basketball matchups between the schools. Whatever—they’re still fun to watch.
While the ebb and flow of importance changes for the casual fan, students and alumni wait each year for another opportunity to beat a hated foe.
Here is a list of some of the more interesting and longstanding rivalries in college basketball. I’m sure there are many, many more and ones I’ve neglected, so feel free to vent.
North Carolina Vs. Duke
After Duke took the early lead in the series in 1924 by winning the first game between the two, 19-18, the Tar Heels fought back and currently lead the series 130-99. Since 1955, at least one of the schools has been ranked when they have met.
Two surprising facts: Coach Mike Krzyzewski is 34-35 lifetime against the Heels, and the two giants have never met in the NCAA Tournament.
West Virginia Vs. Pittsburgh
For a lot of rivalries the nickname spills over from football to basketball and other sports. The Backyard Brawl is no exception.
These two schools have played at least once every season since 1917 and, with Pitt joining the Big East in 1981 and the Mountaineers in 1995, they usually will see each other at least twice.
Last year's second edition, a 98-95 triple-overtime win for Pitt, had to be one of the best in the long series—at least if you are a Panther fan.
Kansas Vs. Missouri
The hardwood version of the "Border War" began in 1907 and, since that time, the teams have played over 260 times. The Jayhawks have a decided advantage over the long haul (169 wins) and have taken eight of the last nine.
Missouri, under the direction of Mike Anderson, has become consistently relevant at the top of the Big 12 in the past two seasons and looks to be on track to challenge again this season.
Syracuse Vs. Connecticut
Games between steady Big East heavyweights the Huskies and the Orange usually have an impact on league title hopes for one or the other.
Lately it seems that one has been up while the other is down. Not this year, though, as UConn made an early statement by winning in Maui.
Oh yeah, and there was that one game in the Big East tourney a couple of years back, aptly remembered as "The Game."
Villanova / St. Joseph's / Temple / LaSalle / Penn
The Philadelphia Big 5 is alive and well. Though Villanova remains a constant from year to year under Jay Wright, this series is big for everyone.
This is essentially the early-season city championship of sorts and a chance to get in with some top-notch teams ('Nova, Temple) in a relatively friendly environment, the Palestra. The Palestra no longer hosts all of the games.
The Big 5 is one of the most interesting and intense city rivalries ever. Former Penn and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy once said that if you won at the Palestra in the winter, you could talk about it all summer on the playground.
Cincinnati Vs. Xavier
An annual showdown between schools that are only three miles apart, often called the "Crosstown Shootout," this is another city championship of sorts.
The Bearcats lead the series overall, but Xavier has dominated recently and on two occasions has upset Cincy when it was ranked No. 1.
Kentucky Vs. Louisville
The in-state rivalry, known as the "Battle for the Bluegrass," became more intense, if possible, when "Traitor Rick" Pitino took over at Louisville.
Though they first played in 1913, the two met only five times between 1916 and 1983. The Wildcats lead the series overall, 27-14, but they have split the last eight. They have also met four times in the NCAA Tournament but not since 1984.
Princeton Vs. Penn
No national star-power here, but for the Ivy League, it is all that. No conference has seen the type of dominance that these schools have shown in the past 50 (yes, 50) years.
Until the emergence of Cornell in the past two years, Penn and Princeton had won or shared the title in all but four seasons dating back to 1960. And they don't really like each other.
Oklahoma Vs. Oklahoma State
The "Bedlam Series" includes all sports in which the teams compete...well, maybe not golf, but who knows? The Sooners have owned the series all-time with 124 wins.
As with many of the rivalries, it has had its peaks and valleys, peaking most recently when Kelvin Sampson and Eddie Sutton were at the helms of the Sooners and Cowboys respectively.
This year's version in terms of national significance won't carry much weight, but the competition will be just as fierce.
Memphis Vs. Tennessee
This one really got going when both made huge strides and consistently became key players on the national scene. Throw in the John Calipari-Bruce Pearl hatefest and this series was downright nasty at times.
The best game of the set might have been in 2008, when No. 2 Tennessee went to No. 1 Memphis and won.
Though the tension between coaches may not exist now (Calipari is gone), the fans and students will keep this one very alive.
Maryland Vs. Duke
Don't tell the Terps this isn't the most important game on their schedule every year. Duke may have a more local connection to the Tar Heels, but Maryland and Duke have played 168 times and every one is the most important game for Maryland.
Though the Blue Devils have won seven of the past 10, Maryland, more than anyone in the ACC, finds a way to beat them when it is least expected.
Kansas Vs. Kansas State
This one has picked up recently as well, as K-State has become a serious player in the Big 12 under Frank Martin. Still, the Jayhawks have their rival's number in the series that began in 1907, at one point winning 31 consecutive meetings before a KSU win in 2005.
The two combined for 26 outright-or-shared titles from 1946-1978 before K-State stopped being in the jet ski.
The "Sunflower Showdown" looks to bloom again this year, as both teams are considered Final Four contenders.
Arizona Vs. UCLA
A longstanding Pac-10 rivalry that has been simmering for a few years will heat up again this year. Both are hoping to get back to the NCAA tourney after uncustomary absences last year.
At its peak, both schools were powerhouses, and in 2000 both were No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. Both are consistently fertile grounds for NBA prospects.
Indiana Vs. Purdue
Bob Knight versus Gene Keady. Doesn't get any grumpier than that. Though Matt Painter is a Keady disciple, he doesn't have the same demeanor.
The Hoosiers and Boilermakers have both been members of the Big Ten for over 100 years and began this series in 1901. Surprisingly, Purdue leads in conference titles 22-20, but the five national titles held by Indiana tends to diminish that.
Tom Crean is a gamer and he'll maximize the importance of the Crimson-and-Gold Cup in what remains one of the most bitter rivalries in the sport.
Kentucky Vs. Tennessee
Calipari vs. Pearl: the sequel. This time, though, it's twice a year.
Also considered a border war, the Vols and Wildcats have met over 200 times in their histories, with Kentucky holding a clear edge, as they do with everyone in the SEC. But with those two on the sidelines, the games will always be fun to watch. Too bad that dynamic may not last.
After a recent lull in the rivalry, hopefully Pearl and Calipari will stick around to entertain us for a lot longer.
Syracuse Vs. Georgetown
"Manley Fieldhouse is officially closed." No words resonate any louder to longtime Orange fans than those of John Thompson, coach of the Hoyas, who unofficially closed the building after a Hoyas' win.
Social commentary back and forth gets a little over the top, but the games almost always have meaning beyond the rivalry. Plus, John Thompson III now coaches the Hoyas. Talk about some tradition.
Missouri Vs. Illinois
The annual "Braggin' Rights" game has been dominated by the Illini, which have won 20 of 29 in the series, including nine in a row from 2000-2008. That streak ended last season with an 81-68 Missouri win.
Both teams are primed and ready for the 2010-11 season and will be major players in their respective conferences. This rivalry looks to be picking up steam.
Marquette Vs. Wisconsin
The two major D-I schools in Wisconsin battle annually for Milwaukee's bragging rights. The series is close, with the Badgers holding a slight edge. Tom Crean and Bo Ryan didn't seem to want to have tea after most of these affairs, which added some flavor to the rivalry.
To add some unneeded fuel to the competitive fire, top-prospect Vander Blue opted not to play for the Badgers but joined the Eagles instead. That should make this year's game fun.
Stanford Vs. California
This one may take some time to really pick up, but the script is a good one, as former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery now hangs his hat at Cal and there is some animosity there.
Montgomery hopes to rebuild Cal the way he did at Stanford before things went south, while Johnny Dawkins is just getting started there. Although there may not be any real sparks yet, this one could play out nicely for the Pac-10.
Texas Vs. Texas A&M
Part of the Lone Star Showdown, the Longhorns and Aggies vie each year for the coveted and aptly-named Lone Star Showdown Trophy.
This competition includes all sports and was essentially designed to recognize, or give some recognition to, the non-mainstream sports—which likely means sports other than football or basketball.
Nebraska Vs. Creighton
The only two Division-I schools in Nebraska, from the two biggest cities in the state, battle for supremacy in what is always an entertaining affair.
The fact that one is a small Catholic university and the other a large public university adds fuel to a rivalry that rarely receives national attention but offers one-year bragging rights to the winner.
Florida State Vs. Florida
This is definitely a born-in-football baby, but the games in the gym are getting more interesting, as both teams have become solid, consistent teams.
Of course the Gators have two national titles to their credit and the Seminoles have nothing close to this, but the game is usually a good one. It may never rival the football grudge, though.
Georgetown Vs. Villanova
Ed Pinckney. Remember that name? When the Wildcats won the national championship over Georgetown in 1985, the rivalry was never more intense.
Recently, a revival of sorts has occurred, as both have seen their share of success in the Big East.
Despite the difference in the religious tenets of each school, the game is rarely referred to as the Augustinians versus the Jesuits—and for good reason.
Utah Vs. BYU
One of the few true rivalries where basketball came before football, as the first of 250 games between the two teams took place in 1909. Amazingly, the series is tied at 125.
The Utes and Cougars are bitter rivals in all sports (the nickname for the football game is the "Holy War") and are, without question, each other's No. 1 nemesis. Hopefully, as both enter new conferences next year, they are able to continue their longstanding acrimony.
Charlotte Vs. Davidson and Bradley Vs. Illinois State
Cool nicknames and titles for the winner get these two games a mention.
For Charlotte and Davidson, the winner receives the Hornet's Nest trophy. Games between Missouri Valley Conference foes the Bradley Braves and the Illinois State Redbirds are referred to as the "War on 74" due to the fact that both are located on-or-very close to the interstate of that number.
No, not the mainstream rivalries you often hear about or see on television, but every bit as important to their students and fans.
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