Oct. 15, 2016
Some of the Best College Basketball Rivalries That I HAVE to Watch
With Louisville and Kentucky having one of the strongest rivalries in college basketball and playing tonight, it made me think of other college basketball rivalries. Of course, every program in the nation has rivals via geography or whatever, but unlike college football where the rivalries are obvious and most are must-see TV, rivalry games in basketball aren't as meaningful in some places (Alabama/Auburn?). But there are some games that are heavy in basketball whether it is pre-tournament or geographic or history. Here are some games I always need to watch when games are played. Here is my list of games that I consider rivalries that I have to watch (no, not in any order).
1. DUKE VS. NORTH CAROLINA: You're talking a few miles in between them first off. Secondly, add all of the success over the last 35-40 years for both programs and nobody matches either one. Then you have of course the whole thing of the mentality of Duke being a bunch of "Riches" and North Carolina being "Rags" and what you get is just a great event. The games are always fun wherever the game is played, but especially in Durham at Cameron Indoor Stadium. In a super-small venue like that and how the fans are? The place is far more intense and it doesn't matter what the records are panning out. And say what you will about Dick Vitale (or I normally call him Duke Vitale), but he is on his A-game when this match is happening.
2. LOUISVILLE VS. KENTUCKY: Similar to Duke/North Carolina where the successes are nearly unparalleled over the years for both, but when you throw in Rick Pitino in the mix, you get the intensity of that whole state coming at a high. Pitino going to Louisville from Kentucky after a small stint in the pros is probably the equivalent of Saban going to Alabama from LSU after a small stint into the pros (just imagine if Saban did that from Alabama to Auburn). But Pitino was just another reason why the rivalry is big. The players play twice as hard since it is only one meeting a year (mostly unless they see each other in March) and every play, whether it is a layup or a loose ball is contested. It is probably more chippy than Duke/UNC as players have been normally T'ed up in these games.
3. GEORGETOWN VS. SYRACUSE: While before the Big East undertook a massive overhaul a few years ago and the conference in football blew, basketball was amazing. And this was one reason why. It is back to those teams in the 80's and 90's with Georgetown with the likes of Iverson & Co. against the players of John Wallace and later on Carmelo Anthony. Georgetown hasn't really gotten back to that level minus a few years of hope and Syracuse has joined the ACC. But the games are still being played as it was must-see TV then and it is still fun to watch now when they do play. The games are still tough and hard-fought. Granted it has missed its luster since the moves but still some fun games.
4. GONZAGA VS. ST. MARY'S: The West Coast Conference comes in with the two teams that some say are the only ones worth talking about. I won't go that far, but the Conference gets recognition for these two teams. Gonzaga got the ball rolling with their numerous tournament appearances and upsets and their Cinderella moniker since really the mid-90's. It never really went away and it has actually gotten them to be a heavyweight favorite in the college basketball world. St. Mary's is trying to become what Gonzaga was and it always seems to be a fight with these two and a scrappy one when these meet. And it is a simple one: St. Mary's wants what Gonzaga has and that's total domination of the conference and representing the conference in the tournament.
5. MICHIGAN STATE VS. INDIANA: I flip-flopped on this one for a long time of whether putting it up here. I originally had both of them with others (Michigan State/Ohio State and Indiana/Purdue) but thinking about it, I think this one has been a rivalry that has gone unnoticed. But the games these two teams play in the Big Ten are some wars. And anytime Michigan State is rolling and they head into Bloomington, the place goes berserk and most of the time Indiana comes out on top. There are times these two teams play when they are top 5 and good quality basketball is being played. Again, probably not an INTENSE rivalry but one that can be must-see TV when both teams are definitely on their game. We can also fit in Wisconsin here as well for both teams.
6. IOWA STATE VS. KANSAS: In football, these two programs are the bottom feeders in the Big 12. But in basketball, they run the ship. Now we mostly hear about how Kansas is the king of the hill of the conference, and rightfully so (feels like spin-the-wheel when it comes to the next team yearly). But Iowa State has carved out a nice program over the years and many consider them to be at the forefront of the Big 12 alongside Kansas. And similar to St. Mary's, Iowa State is trying to unseat the king of the hill. And when Kansas goes to Iowa State, the place in Ames goes crazy. Of course, especially if Iowa State wins and they have to play again in Kansas, that place is jumping and Kansas feels "threatened." It makes for a good game and some intense games.
7. NEW MEXICO VS. SAN DIEGO STATE: Until recently, the Lobos and San Diego State have put up some fun games to watch out in the Mountain West. And the venues for both programs are very underrated. The fans are intense in both places and are pretty amped when they play as mostly it is a key conference game. The games are fun to see and you get some good eastern/midwest style games out of these two programs. Definitely an underrated rivalry game to see.
8. CINCINNATI VS. XAVIER: Now this is a game where teams will actually FIGHT to play this game. The rivalry is within the city as both programs battle for supremacy of the Queen City. The games are physical, tough, and as mentioned before, violent. It ended one year in a brawl, but the games itself when the teams aren't throwing haymakers are some of the best games of the year in the country. Of course, it was capped in 2011-12 when Xavier and Cincinnati had the famed bench-clearing brawl. But that is how the intensity is for this game.
9. ST. JOHN'S VS. VILLANOVA: I'll finish one up with another odd one. It isn't necessarily a rivalry game in the key sense that St. John's has been down for a long period of time and it really hasn't been the same since the 80's when St. John's had their golden years and had to go through Villanova. But most of it involves the whole New York (St. John's) vs. Philadelphia (Villanova) bit and it does make this game a bit more meaningful to both programs and it is a lot of pride on both sides. Hopefully St. John's gets it back on track soon.
This isn't a top whatever list. These are games that when they are on, I feel the need to watch because it will be a great game for the intensity. Hopefully we see some memorable moments tonight with Louisville and Kentucky.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat