basketball-men-d1 flag

Daniel Wilco | NCAA.com | January 24, 2019

College basketball's 10 best rivalries, ranked

The best coach reactions of March Madness

There are few sports traditions more captivating than a storied college basketball rivalry. Years of history, hate, and bragging rights make for the best environments in the game. But what is the best college basketball rivalry?

Let’s let numbers decide. To take opinion out of the equation, we ranked each rivalry by the number of times the two teams have both been ranked when playing each other. Our data set starts in 1950, so this is looking at the past 69 seasons.

Yes, this means certain famous rivalries (Cincinnati vs. Xavier, for example) are left out, due in part to a small sample size. It also favors intra-conference rivalries, where teams play multiple times per year, even if the matchup isn’t necessarily either team’s main rival. 

Before we get to the full Top 10, here are a few takeaways:

Whether playing in Chapel Hill or Cameron Indoor Stadium, no rivalry has seen as much consistency as UNC vs. Duke. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils have played 179 times since 1950 (an average of 2.6 meetings per season), and only 12 of those games have seen neither team be ranked. The two Tobacco Road rivals are currently riding a streak of 148 games where at least one of the two has been ranked.  The last time they met in an unranked game was on February 27, 1960, when a 16-5 North Carolina team beat a 12-9 Duke squad 75-50. Strangely though, despite their storied history, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils have never met in the NCAA tournament. They have faced off in the championship game of the ACC tournament 11 times (with UNC holding the 6-5 edge) and combined to win 38 ACC tournament titles.

RELATED: Duke vs. North Carolina rivalry | Wins, highlights, memorable moments

Of all rivalries with at least 50 games played, none have seen a higher percentage of ranked-vs-ranked meetings as Syracuse vs. Georgetown. The two teams have played only 85 times since 1950 (for reference, UNC and Duke have played 179 times in that span), but have both been ranked in 41 of those games (48.2 percent).

The stars never lined up for UCLA and California. The two teams have played 160 times since 1950, and one of the two has been ranked 98 times. Somehow, though, both teams have been ranked in a matchup only once. Of course, UCLA has been responsible for the majority of the ranked appearances, but California was ranked often in the 1950s.

10. Indiana vs. Illinois

Indiana vs. Illinois

Meetings: 128
Games with at least one team ranked: 87 (68 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 19 (14.8 percent)
Rivalry leader: Indiana, 70-58

9. Duke vs. Wake Forest

Duke vs. Wake Forest

Meetings: 174
Games with at least one team ranked: 124 (71.3 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 20 (11.5 percent)
Rivalry leader: Duke, 118-56

8. Duke vs. North Carolina State

Duke vs. NC State

Meetings: 163
Games with at least one team ranked: 132 (81 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 21 (12.9 percent)
Rivalry leader: Duke, 93-70

7. Kentucky vs. Florida

Kentucky vs. Florida

Meetings: 132
Games with at least one team ranked: 107 (81.1 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 23 (17.4 percent)
Rivalry leader: Kentucky, 92-39

6. Kansas vs. Iowa State

Kansas vs. Iowa State

Meetings: 167
Games with at least one team ranked: 100 (59.9 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 25 (15 percent)
Rivalry leader: Kansas, 118-49

5. Duke vs. Maryland

Duke vs. Maryland

Meetings: 146
Games with at least one team ranked: 116 (79.5 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 29 (19.9 percent)
Rivalry leader: Duke, 95-51

4. UCLA vs. Arizona

UCLA vs. Arizona

Meetings: 96
Games with at least one team ranked: 77 (80.2 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 30 (31.3 percent)
Rivalry leader: UCLA, 54-42

T2. North Carolina vs. North Carolina State

UNC vs. NC State

Meetings: 168
Games with at least one team ranked: 143 (85.1 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 41 (24.4 percent)
Rivalry leader: North Carolina, 111-57

T2. Syracuse vs. Georgetown

Syracuse vs. Georgetown

Meetings: 85
Games with at least one team ranked: 68 (80 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 41 (48.2 percent)
Rivalry leader: Syracuse, 45-40

1. North Carolina vs. Duke

UNC vs. Duke

Meetings: 179
Games with at least one team ranked: 167 (93.3 percent)
Games with both teams ranked: 82 (45.8 percent)
Rivalry leader: North Carolina, 96-83