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Joe Boozell | | February 19, 2016

5 of the best rivalries in college basketball

  Despite the Tar Heels' loss, UNC fans witnessed another compelling chapter in a historic rivalry on Wednesday.

Wednesday night was tangible proof that rivalries are alive and well in college basketball.

Playing with an airtight rotation in front of a raucous crowd at the Dean Dome, Duke didn’t have much business beating North Carolina. It did anyway. Crazy things happen in rivalry games, and the outcomes often defy logic. That’s what makes these heated battles so fun.

Duke-North Carolina is obviously an epic rivalry, but it’s just one of many. Here are five of the greatest rivalries in college basketball.


Separated by a shade over 100 miles, Indiana and Purdue have a long history of clashes on the hardwood.

Both are staples of the Big Ten, having participated in the conference for more than a century. College basketball is king in Indiana, and there have been some classic figures in this rivalry: Bob Knight, Gene Keady and a host of legendary players. Keady scored his 400th career win against IU, and several of Knight’s signature moments have come against Purdue. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, this was not one of them.

Former Boilermaker guard Ryne Smith has fond memories of the rivalry.

“My favorite memory is absolutely winning in Assembly Hall,” Smith said. “Doesn’t matter which time, it is always the best winning in their place. It’s so loud in there and when the clock hits 0 when you win, you can hear a pin drop. No better feeling than that.”

The Boilermakers and the Hoosiers are set to square off on Saturday at Assembly Hall. Both teams are in the AP Top 25, and the game will be must-see television for any hoops connoisseur. Purdue leads the all-time series over Indiana 115-88.


Games between Kentucky and Louisville are never lacking in passion. Both programs are entrenched in the college basketball hotbed that is the Bluegrass State, and Rick Pitino has coached at both schools.

The Wildcats have had the upper hand in this rivalry ever since John Calipari set foot in Lexington, winning eight of the last 11 affairs between the two teams.

For a long time, these schools didn’t play one another. That changed in the 1983 NCAA tournament, when Louisville was the No. 1 seed and Kentucky was the No. 3. The game wasn’t particularly close, with the Cards winning by double digits, but the game generated so much interest that former governor John Y. Brown and state legislature mandated that the schools play each other every year.

“I’m very non-political, but that was probably my most political act,” Brown told the New York Times in 2012.

College basketball fans are thankful for his decision.


Proximity isn’t a necessity for any great rivalry, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. The Crosstown Shootout between the Musketeers and Bearcats takes place every year, and the campuses are only three miles apart in the Queen City.

This game has been played every year since 1946, and while Cincinnati leads the all-time series 49-33, Xavier has emerged victorious in 14 of the last 20 meetings.

ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who is as plugged in as anyone to the legendary Duke-North Carolina rivalry, has high praise for the Crosstown Shootout.

"Cincinnati and Xavier have created a rivalry that is unparalleled when it comes to outright passion and civic division," Bilas said.

There have been multiple-overtime thrillers, triumphic moments and pitfalls, but there is no denying how much these two schools care about defeating one another on the basketball court.


When the Bruins and the Wildcats take the floor at the same time, there’s no telling what will happen.

UCLA dominated virtually every team in its path during the John Wooden era, winning 10 national championships in the 1960s and 1970s. Their path of destruction included Arizona. But since then, the Wildcats have made an argument to be considered the premiere college basketball program out west; that title once belonged to UCLA.

MORE: Nine of the best college basketball towns

The Bruins lead the all-time series 55-40, and before Lute Olson arrived in Tucson, the rivalry was especially lopsided. UCLA had won 21 of 23 games before Olson got the head coaching job, and Arizona hasn’t looked back. The Wildcats went 28-23 against UCLA during Olson’s tenure, and that success has continued under Sean Miller.

"UCLA's tradition is deeper than Arizona's, but both programs have been on top for the last 30 years," said former Wildcat Cory Williams, a college basketball analyst for ESPN and the Pac-12 Networks. "It's not a West Coast rivalry but it's also a national one. There is a reason this game is always on national TV. They compete head-to-head for recruits and each is the only school the other looks to as a benchmark."

He also added: "It's the Clash of the Titans, bragging rights. We hate those guys."

Arizona defeated UCLA this past Friday in a tightly contested bout.

Duke-North Carolina

Dean Smith. Coach K. Michael Jordan. Christian Laettner. James Worthy. Grant Hill. Vince Carter. Jay Williams. Sean May. J.J. Redick. Tyler Hansbrough. Jahlil Okafor. Roy Williams.

That’s only a fraction of the huge names that have participated in this matchup, and judging by Wednesday night’s one-point thriller at the Dean Dome, this rivalry is firing on all cylinders. Durham and Chapel Hill are less than 15 miles apart, and the schools are absolutely iconic in college basketball.

“I believe it is the best rivalry in all of sports, not just college basketball,” ESPN analyst Dick Vitale said of Duke-UNC in 2012.

“I know that fans in New York and Boston will argue about Red Sox-Yankees. Ohio State and Michigan in football, and Alabama-Auburn are right up there, but not numero uno, baby!”

Based on Wednesday night, it’s pretty hard to argue with Vitale on that front.



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