Duke-North Carolina and the 11 Most Heated Rivalries in College Basketball

Chaz Surette@@ChazSuretteCorrespondent INovember 21, 2011

Duke-North Carolina and the 11 Most Heated Rivalries in College Basketball

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    College basketball, much like college football, is all about rivalries. Fans of opposing teams wait all season for those one or two games during the year when their favorite program faces off against their most heated rival. More often than not, rivalry games are some of the best, most exciting games all year round, and for the most devoted of fans, these games are never to be missed.

    With that mind, who are the best of the best? Which teams from across the nation square off in the most heated and intense of rivalries?

    Let's take a look at the 11 best rivalries in all of college basketball.

Duke-North Carolina

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    Let's just get this one out of the way. The Battle of Tobacco Road constitutes the single best college basketball rivalry in the nation.

    Two of the most storied programs in ACC and college basketball history—nine national championships and 33 Final Four appearances between them—face off twice a year in a battle for bragging rights, recruiting dominance and a shot at national supremacy.

    This rivalry has given us some off the best games in the history of basketball (especially when we get unexpected overtime games, like the Coach K-less game in 1995) and some of the most heated confrontations as well (for example, Duke's Gerald Henderson and his infamous takedown of UNC's Tyler Hansbrough in 2007).

    Games between Duke and North Carolina often decide the ACC regular season championship, and can sometimes mean the difference in seeding in the Big Dance as well.

    With so much riding on this historic, century-old rivalry, it's no wonder so many of the games between Duke and North Carolina are instant classics.

Kansas-Kansas State

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    The scene shifts from North Carolina to Kansas, as the Jayhawks of KU face off twice annually against the Kansas State Wildcats in the Sunflower Showdown.

    Kansas is has one of the richest college basketball histories in the nation with three National Championships and 13 Final Four appearances, and has long reigned supreme over basketball not just in the state of Kansas, but in the Big Eight (and later the Big 12) as well.

    Meanwhile, the Wildcats of Kansas State are finally emerging from the Jayhawks' shadow, and in recent years, they have shown they can, and will, be competitive in the face of KU dominance. The rivalry has slowly but surely grown more intense and is now of the best rivalries in the game today.

    The Sunflower State is up for grabs. Be it a Jayhawk or a Wildcat, games between these two are sure to entertain.


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    The Battle for the Commonwealth is unique in that the two involved teams are in different conferences: Kentucky plays in the SEC; Louisville makes its home in the Big East.

    I think that difference makes the rivalry more interesting, as the teams face off earlier in the season than do typical rivals. This helps to bring more interest and intrigue to college basketball earlier in the season and keeps people watching right up through to tournament time.

    Kentucky is the traditional power here; they have seven National Championships (second to UCLA) and are perennial contenders for a deep tournament run.

    Louisville, on the other hand, has had some periods of success, but has to yet to to make themselves into a consistent contender, which is no easy task residing in a conference with the likes of UConn, Syracuse and Pitt.

    This rivalry still retains heated intensity, as Louisville continues to fight to keep pace with Kentucky. It's all about bragging rights, and the two fanbases know it.


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    The first interstate rivalry on our list, UConn and Syracuse, is of the newer variety, as UConn has risen to power over the course of two decades to become of the premier teams in both the Big East and the college basketball nation as a whole.

    Syracuse has long been a powerhouse of college basketball and has traditionally been a stalwart of the Big East. Ever since the rise of UConn as legitimate contender, Syracuse has had to deal with them as a perennial conference foe.

    The two teams are nearly always well-stocked with talent and have been played some close, exciting games over the course of their rivalry, especially in recent years. Take, for instance, Orange's 127-117 six-overtime victory over the Huskies in the 2009 Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

    It'll be interesting to see what happens to this rivalry once Syracuse leaves the Big East for the ACC. Will the two try to keep the rivalry alive in non-conference play? Or will UConn answer the rumors and move to the ACC as well?

    Only time will tell, but until then, let's enjoy the Big East's best rivalry.


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    I'll probably get quite a few comments about this one, seeing how this rivalry has faded in intensity ever since UConn rose to national prominence and that Georgetown is on decline.

    As much as this rivalry has taken a back seat as of late to UConn and Syracuse, the Orange and the Hoyas remain the two biggest traditional rivals in the Big East.

    These two became rivals long before Syracuse and UConn ever were, as the perennial battles between the Orange and the Hoyas date back to the early 1980s and the infancy of the Big East. They've battled each other annually ever since, often for Big East supremacy.

    Although this rivalry may come to an unfortunate close once Syracuse leaves the Big East, for the time being, emotions continue to run high between the fanbases of both teams. No doubt they'll both make the most of this rivalry while it's still around.


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    This is another great rivalry on the rise. In an SEC known more for its football than its basketball, the conference has largely been dominated by Kentucky for much of its history.

    However, with the rise of the Florida Gators as a more consistent contender in the SEC, Kentucky's supremacy is not as certain as before.

    The Gators won two straight National Championships in 2006 and 2007 while Kentucky was mired in mediocrity under Tubby Smith and Billy Gillespie. Now, with Kentucky's resurgence under John Calipari and Florida's recovery from two down years following their back-to-back championships, these two teams are on a collision course, and the two games that they'll play against each other will certainly affect the race for the SEC Championship.

    If both teams can stay competitive over the next several years, this new-found rivalry is here to stay.

Pittsburgh-West Virginia

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    In an extension of college football's "Backyard Brawl," the Panthers of Pittsburgh square off each year against their Big East conference rival, the West Virginia Mountaineers.

    Pitt and West Virginia have been rising stars in the world of college basketball for some time, and with both of them rising to national prominence at the same time, the rivalry between the Panthers and the Mountaineers has grown more intense. Both teams have risen to become Big East contenders, with both teams jockeying for supremacy alongside Syracuse and UConn.

    Both teams have made deep tournament runs, although neither has made great inroads toward a National Championship. The rivalry between the two has become all the more intense, as both have become perennial Big East contenders; plus, it helps to already be rivals thanks to football.


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    This is another football-inspired rivalry that has translated into a great basketball series. Kansas and Missouri's basketball battle dates back to 1907, and the two teams have played each other at least once per year ever since.

    Missouri has made a name for itself for, at various times, being the one team to spoil the party for Kansas. The Jayhawks have long dominated the Big Eight/Big 12, while Missouri has long played the foil.

    No better example exists than the famous game played between the Jayhawks and the Tigers on Feb. 4, 1997 in Columbia. Kansas entered the game as the undefeated No. 1 team in the nation, while Missouri entered the contest unranked. The Tigers went on to stun the Paul Pierce-led Jayhawks in double overtime 96-94.

    Kansas and Missouri have played many close, exciting games like this one, with Missouri still relishing any opportunity to stand in the way of Kansas and another conference championship. The rivalry remains strong to this day thanks to their continued shared membership in the Big 12.

    Hopefully this rivalry won't fade once Missouri moves to the SEC as planned.


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    This is quite possibly one of the most underrated rivalries in college basketball. This rivalry is relatively new and came about in the early 2000's thanks to a decline into irrelevancy by North Carolina and the rise of Maryland as a force to be reckoned with in the ACC.

    This rivalry has produced some great games in the past, especially the epic matchups in 2001, when the Blue Devils and the Terrapins faced off a total of four times over the course of the season, with Duke winning the most important one of all in the form of a Final Four victory and a trip to the National Championship game.

    The intensity has faded somewhat due to the decline of Maryland and the resurgence of the Tar Heels since Roy Williams has become the head coach. If the Terps can once again become contenders in the ACC, this rivalry can serve as a great matchup that will keep the ACC interesting alongside Duke and North Carolina.

Ohio State-Michigan State

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    Michigan State and Ohio State are easily two of the best basketball teams in the Big Ten, meaning that battles between these two are sure to entertain.

    The Spartans of East Lansing have had their go at the Big Ten for a number of years and have been in contention for the Big Ten Championship for much of the past decade. The Buckeyes, however, have been a rising star over the past several years, and with the addition of Jared Sullinger, they've finally wrested control of the conference away from Michigan State, who have struggled since two straight trips to the Final Four in 2009 and 2010.

    For both of these teams to be competitive at the same time is somewhat rare, although when they are, games are nearly always competitive and can have major implications on the road to the Big Ten Championship and seeding in the Big Dance.


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    We leave you with one final Big East clash, this one between the UConn Huskies and the Pittsburgh Panthers.

    UConn and Pitt have been firmly in control of the Big East in recent years, giving games between these two teams a whole lot of meaning, and that means a whole lot of emotion and intensity.

    Last year gave us all kinds of drama, as a UConn squad led by Kemba Walker came into the Big East Tournament following a 9-9 conference regular season record and trounced the regular season champion Panthers in the tournament quarterfinals on the way to a Big East Tournament victory and a National Championship.

    UConn and Pitt are always super-talented and make for some of the best basketball in the country. If both teams stay competitive down the road and they can maintain an annual battle in non-conference play after Pitt moves to the ACC (or if UConn eventually moves with them), then this is a rivalry that will last for a long time.