The Biggest Feuds in College Basketball History
You can't really blame athletes for getting a little heated in the middle of competition, when emotions run high as everyone involved is focused on winning. Being able to put that aside afterward, and especially the next time teams meet up, is the mark of a level-headed competitor.
It's when things linger that problems occur, and when feuds are born.
College basketball isn't particularly rife with bad blood between players, coaches, teams or other entities, but there are some squabbles that have stood out over time. This is either because of how long they lasted or the nature of the dispute, sometimes both.
Just this week we bore witness to the start of a potentially spicy feud between a pair of Hall of Fame coaches, one that is sure to make the headlines at every step if it continues.
In a recent blog post by Kentucky coach John Calipari, Calipari called it "preposterous" for schools to sell a recruit on the idea they'd be taken care of for life by going to a certain program, especially when it's quite evident they don't plan to be in college very long. The speculation was that he was referring to Duke and the recruiting tactics used by Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski, though on Wednesday Calipari claimed the statement was not about a specific team, according to Kyle Tucker of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
If it continues, a Calipari/Coach K kerfuffle will rank among the greatest in college basketball history. Here are some others that have stood out over the years.
Christian Laettner vs. Everyone
Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils are arguably the least-liked program in college basketball. Their seemingly perennial spot at or near the top of the rankings probably has something to do with that, but so does their tendency to have players who rub opposing players, coaches and fans the wrong wrong way.
Grayson Allen is the latest in a long line of hated Duke players, but none are as detested as Christian Laettner. Don't agree? Name another college basketball star who's had his own ESPN "30 for 30" special devoted entirely to how much others disliked him.
Laettner, who played for Duke from 1988-92 and was the Naismith College Player of the Year as a senior, was part of a pair of national championship teams during the start of Duke's rise to the elite. He was the magnet for everyone's distaste, seeming to welcome the rancor and maybe even encourage it with his demeanor on the court.
It's been 24 years since Laettner's college career ended, yet it's no surprise he was atop Sporting News' recent list of the most-hated players in college basketball history.
Cincinnati vs. Xavier
Known as the Crosstown Classic, Cincinnati and Xavier have been playing each other in basketball since the 1920s and on a regular basis since the mid-1940s. That longstanding rivalry has always been full of passion, fueled by the proximity of the schools (they're less than three miles apart) and the intermingling of alumni among families.
"You got husbands who went to Xavier and wives who went to UC and vice-versa," former Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins said, per Bob Hertzel of the Exponent Telegram. "It’s crazy. Cincinnati vs. Xavier is off the charts."
Good-natured hate and spirited competition is one thing, all-out street fights are another. That's what happened near the end of the 2011 meeting, at Xavier, which was called with 9.4 seconds left after a brawl ensued near the Cincinnati bench. Punches were thrown, blood was spilled and eight total players were suspended anywhere from one to six games.
The fight caused the schools to move their next few meetings to neutral sites, but the rivalry returned to campus arenas in 2014-15.
Coaches vs. Transfers
Feuds don't always have to involve individuals or teams or fan bases. Sometimes they can be between the sport itself and the current culture of today's players. And with that you get the growing trend of transfers in college basketball.
UTEP coach Tim Floyd spent much of a Tuesday press conference railing against the number of college players who have been switching schools of late. His team hasn't been immune, losing three players from the 2015-16 Miners to the transfer route.
“It's the culture of the millennial that we're all dealing with,” Floyd said, per CBS Sports, claiming that 59 college teams have had three or more players transfer this offseason and 153 schools lost at least three transfers after 2014-15. “It's not just in college basketball. It's in the workplace. The average millennial has five jobs within the first three years of graduation.”
Floyd's rant was in response to what he felt was unfair treatment by a local radio host (might another feud be brimming?) and this led to a back-and-forth between he and the media member. Though that argument ended up taking over the press conference, what shouldn't be lost is how prevalent transfers have become.
ESPN has taken to compiling an annual list of all this movement, with more than 500 names on the current roster that's broken into those who can play immediately (graduate transfers) and those who have to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules.
Dozens of coaches have spoken out against the transfer trend—Floyd read quotes from some on Tuesday—yet the irony of it all is that almost every one of those coaches has also welcomed in a transfer from another program. With that in mind, as well as a similarly frequent amount of coaching movement, it's unlikely this debate is going to end anytime soon.
Dale Brown vs. Bobby Knight
We probably could have done an entire list just on feuds involving former Indiana coach Bobby Knight, one of the winningest coaches in college basketball history but also one of the most polarizing. In the interest of fairness, we've limited it to just one Knight-related conflict, but it's a doozy.
Dale Brown won 448 games in 25 seasons with LSU between 1972-97, and though he had the occasional run-in along the way, he seemed fairly well liked in the college basketball community. He mostly avoided controversy, though he was outspoken against the NCAA and called it an "archaic institution that legislates against human dignity" in 2012, according to Nicholas Munson of College Magazine.
And then there was his feud with Knight, who knocked off two of Brown's three best LSU teams (in 1981 and 1987), with the 1987 loss in the Elite Eight bringing their quarrel to a head. Toward the end of that game, Knight slammed his hand down on the scorer's table and knocked a phone off its cradle; Brown took issue with that, but in 2012 Mike Bruton of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote that Brown's issue with Knight went much further than that:
I did make the statement that I'd like to be locked in a room naked (and take Knight on) in a wrestling match and whoever comes out, we'll find out who's the man... I did hold anger and I really did want a conflict... It was deeper than the basketball court and it prolonged itself. Many times I heard (Knight's) name and the hairs on my arms would stand up.
Brown has made peace with that battle, and it seems Knight may have too. He told Bruton that if Brown had explained what went on in 1987, "I don't need to," and jokingly added that "even with my temperament, I've come into conflict with people."
Doug Gottlieb vs. Jim Boeheim
Not many people remember Doug Gottlieb from his time as a basketball player, but he was a pretty effective pass-first point guard at Notre Dame and Oklahoma State from 1995-2000. But sports media is where Gottlieb has made his mark, and his ongoing battle with Syracuse Jim Boeheim is among the highlights (or lowlights, depending on your perspective) of his career.
First at ESPN and currently with CBS, Gottlieb isn't afraid to speak his mind and spark debate. Nowhere is this more noticeable that his comments toward Boeheim, who got things started in the mid-2000s when he criticized Syracuse's nonconference scheduling. He used the word "fraudulent," which opened the door for Boeheim to respond by bringing up Gottlieb's legal issues at Notre Dame that involved allegedly stealing credit cards.
The spat has continued over the years, including in 2012, when after Boeheim picked up his 900th career win, Gottlieb referred to him as "obviously not great" on a "CBS Sports Minute" and cited a variety of reasons (h/t Brent Axe of Syracuse.com). Boeheim later responded in an interview on "The Afternoon Drive", claiming Gottlieb had an "anti-Jim Boeheim agenda."
The pair continue to trade barbs, and as long they're in their respective roles in the college basketball world, expect them to keep sniping.
John Calipari vs. John Chaney
Much like any of the Rocky films, the war in the ring at the end of the movie takes center stage but it's the little battles along the way that make those fights so memorable. Same goes for the time that John Calipari and John Chaney nearly came to blows during a 1994 postgame press conference, because it wasn't just an isolated incident stemming from a heated game.
"With Chaney and Calipari—at first—it was very much a tale of the wily, proven veteran versus the inexperienced rookie who was hell-bent on making a name for himself," Hewitt wrote.
Calipari was hired at UMass in 1988, his first head coaching job, while Chaney had been at Temple since 1982 and had won the A-10 title in four of the previous five seasons before Calipari arrived. He won the league once more while Calipari was there, but then Calipari won five straight A-10 crowns and often went through Chaney's Owls to do so.
Everything came to a head in 1994 after the Minutemen beat Temple at home. Calipari was speaking to reporters when Chaney burst in, starting calling out Calipari and eventually started toward the podium. Along the way he yelled "I'll kill you" and "when I see you, I'm going to kick your ass."
Their rivalry died down after Calipari left UMass for an NBA job, and by the time he returned to the college ranks Chaney's career was near its end.