With college basketball fans staring down the longest 41 days of the year until tip-off on Nov. 6, the sport's illustrious crop of rivalries remain among the most hotly anticipated fixtures of the new year.
As such, NCAA Digital's Andy Katz travels from Tobacco Road to Rodeo Drive, highlighting the best classic and new rivalries in the world of college basketball this season.
Duke vs. North Carolina:
As they have every year since 1920, each of these storied programs will brave a 10-mile trek down Tobacco Road to renew the fiercest, most storied rivalry in college basketball. With Duke and UNC having reached a Final Four within the last two seasons and rosters loaded with a historic accumulation of talent, 2023's offerings should return this iconic rivalry back to college basketball's biggest stage.
For a Duke program synonymous with excellent recruiting and high turnover, the Blue Devils remarkably return 80 percent of their scoring production after ranking third nationally in adjusted efficiency over their final 12 games. In fact, coach Jon Scheyer's biggest recruiting win this offseason was likely keeping seven-foot, do-it-all forward Kyle Filipowski for another year, who will spearhead Duke's high-powered attack alongside former Texas transfer Jeremy Roach, hyper-efficient center Ryan Young and athletic sophomore wings Tyrese Proctor and Mark Mitchell.
Meanwhile, North Carolina blends Final Four veterans with a crop of talented transfers in hopes of returning back to the NCAA tournament. RJ Davis and Armando Bacot only built on their roles in the Tar Heels' 2022 run, with Davis averaging 16 points per game with a robust 36 percent three-point percentage while Bacot set the UNC single-season rebounding record and earned First-Team All-ACC honors. These Chapel Hill cornerstones pair with former five-star transfer Harrison Ingram, dead-eye former Fighting Irishman Cormac Ryan and top-10 recruit Elliot Cadeau to create a renewed contender.
Purdue vs. Indiana:
While Indiana's rumored return has beckoned in Bloomington for years, coach Mike Woodson took a substantive step toward reclaiming the Hoosiers' former glory in his second season by sweeping Purdue for the first time in a decade. And as the Assembly Hall's staff work to retrain the spotlight away from a number of beloved faces — leading scorers Trayce Jackson-Davis and Jalen Hood-Schifino traded in their candy stripes for NBA contracts this offseason — Woodson welcomes in a number of talented replacements in former five-star, ex-Oregon transfer Kelel Ware, top-10 recruit Mackenzie Mgbako and beloved Bronny James AAU teammate Gabe Cupps.
7'4" Naismith Player of the Year Zach Edey is back in black (and gold), along with nearly the entire Purdue roster after a shocking first-round upset to Farleigh Dickinson in the NCAA tournament. Edey's dominant presence, a youthful Purdue backcourt boosted by SIU transfer Lance Jones and elite front-court depth in Trey Kauffman-Renn and Caleb Furst make Purdue a potential preseason No. 1 team and sets up a pair of high-profile matchups with the Hoosiers — the two teams will meet in Bloomington Jan. 16 before reuniting in West Lafayette soon after on Feb. 10.
Kansas vs. Kansas State:
Among Jerome Tang's many remarkable accomplishments in Manhattan, the first-year coach ensured that the state's temporarily comfortable Kansas fans will once again remember Bramlage Coliseum as the "Octagon of Doom." Tang and his Wildcats' 83-82 overtime victory last season managed to halt a seven-game skid against the Jayhawks, and K-State would ultimately manage to upstage the defending champs on the national stage as well, leveraging an all-time Sweet 16 classic against Michigan State to advance to the regional finals while KU bowed out in the second round.
Tang appears to have pulled another Houdini act this offseason, angling his team for another NCAA tournament berth despite losing its top-two scorers from a year ago — K-State added sharpshooting North Texas transfer Tylor Perry along with ex-Creighton wing Arthur Kaluma, two of the transfer portal's most sought after entrants. Kansas' roster, meanwhile, remains among the best in the country, luring in Michigan's Hunter Dickinson to pair with returning stars Dajuan Harris Jr. and KJ Adams Jr., setting up another competitive iteration of the Sunflower Showdown.
Kentucky vs. Tennessee:
With coaching legends John Calipari and Rick Barnes pitted against one another in the same conference, it seemed inevitable that a contentious, high-stakes rivalry would ensue. Calipari's Kentucky and Barnes' Tennessee have both finished inside the SEC's top 4 in all but two seasons since 2018, and the two teams are a perfect 11-11 in their last 22 matchups. This evenly-contested affair should continue in 2024, as both teams are currently slated within the Bart Torvik projected top 20.
The Vols return three of their top-three scorers from last season. But possibly more importantly for Barnes and the nation's most efficient defense in 2022, Tennessee's top-two steals leaders in Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi, along with blocks leader Jonas Aidoo, are joined by Northern Colorado transfer Dalton Knecht, who is among the top-100 returning players in defensive rating, to create another suffocating roster. Kentucky, instead, used some summer magic to bolster a young, offensively potent roster with senior leadership. Antonio Reeves is back in Lexington and joined by West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell, who together will oversee Kentucky's triad of top-15 freshmen in Tre Mitchell, DJ Wagner and Robert Dillingham.
Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s:
The two standard bearers for the now assurgent West Coast Conference, Gonzaga and Saint Mary's have forged one of college basketball's most competitive, impactful rivalries despite a combined enrollment of fewer than 10,000 students. Mark Few's turn-of-the-century arrival at Gonzaga quickly ushered in a wave of WCC dominance for the Bulldogs, with Gonzaga winning the conference by at least a game every year from 2002 through 2010. However, since earning the No. 1 seed in the 2011 WCC tournament, Saint Mary's has battled Gonzaga closely and the teams have rotated between the conference's top two spots in nine of the last 12 seasons.
Gael great Logan Johnson has finally, at least from the perspective of WCC contenders, graduated from Saint Mary's after leading the team in points and assists, but the team's entire remaining rotation returns for the 2023-24 season and is joined by Harvard transfer Mason Forbes. The Zags similarly lose a duo of last season's leaders in Drew Timme and Julian Strawther, but Anton Watson and Rasir Bolton headline a healthy crop of Bulldog returners. The two schools matchup twice this season, including a season-ending bout in California for which third-party tickets have already reached a floor of $168.
UConn vs. Marquette:
Shaka Smart won the battle over the Huskies, besting Danny Hurley's bunch in two of their three meetings while scooping up regular season and tournament titles in a hyper-competitive Big East conference, but UConn ultimately won the war with a dominant March Madness run en route to its fifth national championship title. Two of the conference's most historic programs have geared up for more excellence in 2023-24, setting up yet another set of apex clashes for Hurley and Smart this season.
More of the same should be expected in Marquette, only losing Olivier Maxence-Prosper to the Dallas Mavericks among last season's nine-man rotation, while UConn — currently ranked third in Bart Torvik's preseason rankings — recruited Cam Spencer from Rutgers to bolster Tristan Newton, Donovan Clingan and the rest of UConn's crop of returnees.
UCLA vs. Arizona:
In the chaotic world of conference realignment, one unfortunate current casualty is the long-standing UCLA-Arizona rivalry, as the two teams will not be in the same conference in 2024-25 for the first time since 1978. The pair of college basketball institutions and former national champions have continued said tradition with a streak of excellent basketball games in recent memory — the two teams have evenly split their last 26 meetings together — and will hope another hotly-contested game precedes an uncertain future.
Many of the architects behind UCLA's recent renaissance have departed to the NBA, including Jaime Jaquez Jr., Tyger Campbell and Jordan Clark, but Mick Cronin made sure to sign Utah's Lazar Stefanovic and West Virginia's Will McClendon to lead a young crop of Bruin stars in 2023. Meanwhile, Caleb Love's whirlwind offseason washed up the star guard on the scenic shores of Tuscon, joining Oumar Ball and Belle Larsson to try and wrestle back Pac-12 glory from UCLA.
UCLA vs. Southern Cal:
This Pac-12 rivalry has preserved itself through the latest round of realignment, with these crosstown rivals heading jointly to the Big Ten next season. Despite the history and pedigree of UCLA, it's USC that has come to dominate this rivalry in recent years, winning six of the last nine matchups. Most prognosticators expect the Trojans to continue this success into their last go at the Pac-12, pairing the nation's No. 1 overall recruit Isaiah Collier with returning stars Boogie Ellis and Kobe Johnson.
Auburn vs. Alabama:
Defying many of the stereotypes about the Deep South's relationship with basketball, many of the loudest "Rammer Jammer" and "War Eagle" chants in recent memory have echoed off the hardwood. Nate Oats and Bruce Pearl have brought excellence to their respective Alabama and Auburn programs — the teams have each cracked the AP top-5 twice in the last three seasons — and will prepare for another high level encounter in the 159th and 160th iterations of the basketball Iron Bowl this year.
Lottery pick Brandon Miller is gone from Tuscaloosa, but Nate Oats, as always, retools with another supremely talented roster headlined by Hofstra transfer Aaron Estrada and North Dakota State transfer Grant Nelson, while Auburn assumes a more familiar looks with three of its top four scorers back on campus.
Dayton vs. VCU:
Dayton and VCU are once again slated to finish near the top of the Atlantic 10, and the matchups between the perennial powers have become appointment viewing in recent years. Eight of the last 12 regular season tilts between Dayton and VCU have been decided by just five points or fewer, and with either the Flyers or the Rams finishing within the top two of the A-10 every year since 2018, these closely-contested contests have come to affect massive impacts on the conference standings.