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Five underappreciated college hoops rivalries

Mar 7, 2013, 11:30 AM EDT

Utah State BYU

On Saturday afternoon, the final installment of Syracuse and Georgetown’s Big East rivalry will come to a fitting close: final day of the regular season played in front of a packed house on ESPN’s Gameday with a conference title on the line.

This isn’t the first great rivalry to get crushed during the Expansionocalypse Paper Chase. West Virginia and Pitt won’t be having anymore Backyard Brawls. Kansas and Missouri have seen their Border War come to an unfortunate truce. Even football has seen one of their longest-standing rivalries fade into darkness, which is why you won’t ever see Johnny Football running roughshod in Austin.

But that doesn’t mean all the great rivalries are dead. Duke and North Carolina play on Saturday as well, and I’m not sure that rivalry can compare with the bitterness that exists between Kentucky and Louisville. The ferocity of the Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier was headline news when they exchanged punches last season. And now that Michigan is good again, the rivalry between the Wolverines and Tom Izzo’s Spartans is thriving.

Here are five more rivalries (plus five extra, since we love ya!) that are must-see TV:

The Sunflower Showdown: Now that Missouri is in the SEC and Kansas State is good at basketball, we must all hope that the attention of the Jayhawk fan base gets turned onto the Wildcats. There’s nothing better than a fierce, in-state rivalry between two powerhouse programs — they are currently tied for the Big 12 lead — that happen to reside in the same conference, and that’s precisely what we have here. Throw in the fact that these are two of the best home court environments in the country and you have everything you need in a rivalry.

The Black & Blue Classic: The battle for the city of Richmond is your classic beef between a large, public school (VCU) and a small, private school (Richmond). This quote from former Ram guard Brandon Rozzell when both teams made the 2011 Sweet 16 sums it up just right:

“We consider ourselves the real Richmond school,” Rozzell said. “We’re in the middle of the city and the heart and soul of everything. They’re more of an elite school, nice campus and all. I like to be where everything is at, not out in the middle of the woods and covered by trees.”

They play twice-a-year as members of the Atlantic 10.

The I-94 Rivalry: Over the last decade or so, in-state rivals Wisconsin and Marquette have seen their feud get ratcheted up a couple of notches. It helps that Bo Ryan and Tom Crean/Buzz Williams have built the two programs into perennial contenders built more-or-less on the same premise: talent development over three or four years, hard work and effort. Recent recruiting battles (looking at you, Vander Blue) have helped fuel the fire as well.

Gonzaga and St. Mary’s: If there was ever a rivalry that needed an awesome nickname*, this is it. The two best programs in the WCC, the Zags and the Gaels have spent the better part of the last decade competing for conference superiority. St. Mary’s finally claimed it last season, but that may be gone now that Gonzaga has climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the country.

Utah, Utah State and BYU: Outside of Indiana and Kentucky, there isn’t a more hoops-mad state in the country that Utah. These are the three biggest programs in the state, and while none of them happen to reside in the same conference anymore — USU will be heading to the Mountain West next season, which Utah and BYU both left in recent years — that doesn’t change the spite that’s felt between the two programs. These rivalries have been played more than 200 times and, with the exception of a couple of recent ugly seasons from the Utes, draw sellout crowds that are rowdy and loud.

Five more worth tuning in for:

  • Indiana and Purdue: It feels weird putting the two biggest schools in Indiana on this list, but it probably belongs. The Indiana-Kentucky rivalry is the one that makes headlines. The Indiana-Butler rivalry is the one gaining traction thanks to Brad Stevens. It’s been a while since both schools were relevant at the same time, but when they are, this is fierce.
  • The Big 5: I shouldn’t have to explain the Big 5, but I will. St. Joe’s, Villanova, Penn, La Salle and Temple — five schools located in Philly — play a round-robin every year. The folks in Philly care a lot. Seeing a Holy War (St. Joe’s vs. Villanova) should be on every hoop fan’s bucket list.
  • The Battle of the Boulevard: Lipscomb and Belmont. No longer league rivals, but that doesn’t take away from the spirit of this rivalry, which once drew 16,000 people to a tournament game when both were NAIA schools in the early ’90s.
  • Rio Grande Rivalry: Featuring New Mexico and New Mexico State, this rivalry is unique in that it’s a non-conference matchup, but the Lobos and the Aggies play twice a year.
  • Penn and Princeton: The two most storied programs in the Ivy League. Harvard may headline the conference these days, but even in a down year, this game is intense.

What do you think is the best rivalry in the country that doesn’t get enough attention?

*(Now accepting applications for nicknames for the Gonzaga-St. Mary’s rivalry. Leave ’em in the comments. The winner gets endless props from me.)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

  1. nyheels29 - Mar 7, 2013 at 12:17 PM

    If you don’t recognize that Duke-UNC is the best and most important rivalry in college basketball, that’s fine but you’re wrong and I hate you.

    • kordof - Mar 7, 2013 at 8:59 PM

      Just in case you couldn’t read the title it said UNDERappreciated as in nobody knows about them

      • nyheels29 - Mar 8, 2013 at 4:19 PM

        Not only did I read the title, but the actual article too! Which happened to include this line:

        “Duke and North Carolina play on Saturday as well, and I’m not sure that rivalry can compare with the bitterness that exists between Kentucky and Louisville.”

    • lundy337 - Mar 13, 2013 at 7:34 PM

      The dook – unc-CHeat rivalry is overrated by ESPN. Dook was the bridesmaid on Tobacco Rd for decades. They finally stepped up to the plate with an NCAA in 91 and caught up to the lowly Wolfpack in 92. It wasn’t until 01 that they stepped out of the tie with State.
      The rivaly has only existed in its current status since Coach K (aka ratface) has risen to prominence and ESPN homers promoted the short lived rivalry as sacred and everlasting. It took an ex NC State player and coach named Bubas to even make them relevant when State and u*nc had the old Southern and ACC wrapped up.

      If it wasn’t for all that CHeating going on over at u*nc then the dook-CHeat rivalry wouldn’t exist. Same as if the Valvano fiasco hadn’t of happend it would likely be State-dook. Now that u*nc-CHeat has finally been exposed, I expect dook to steamroll the CHeaters for years and that important rivalry will fade as the dookies leave those CHeaters behind. Don’t believe me? Google unc scandal, see how many hits you get that aren’t being covered on ESPN.

      Just because ESPN promotes it like crazy doesn’t mean it’s the end-all-be-all. Their collective memory only began in 79. Before that they don’t think anything happened…

      UK and UCLA will always be the gold labels of College Basketball NOT u*nc, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have fake classes to win their championships. If you don’t believe that then you’re wrong and I hate you….

  2. gerryb323 - Mar 7, 2013 at 12:38 PM

    KU and K-State are only “tied” in EMAW country…losing both head-to-head matchups kinda breaks that tie.

  3. scoregasmic - Mar 7, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    I would say UofM msu is an under appreciated rivalry, it does get mentioned on espn but I am a firm believer that it is better and bigger than UofM vs OSU. All the UofM fans I know get a lot more upset/happy when they lose/beat msu than they do in regards to OSU

  4. beardown2489 - Mar 7, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    I think Mizzou has a two great ones. Obviously one with KU, but the one people don’t talk about is with Illinois. Those two schools hate each other. It was a shame they stopped playing the football games but the basketball matchup is intense every year. As an Illini fan, in gettin sick of losing to them.

  5. Eric Angevine - Mar 7, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s? Given the number of Canadians on one end and Australians on the other end, it should be the British Commonwealth Cup.

  6. Eric Angevine - Mar 7, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    ODU/VCU was a great one while it lasted.

  7. critter69 - Mar 7, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    The IU/PU rivalry has been going on for more than a century now in ALL sports (including mens and womens sports) the two universities compete in (which is all sports except soccer and possibly ice hockey). So it’s not just a basketball or football or wrestling or baseball or swimming and diving rivalry, etc., but for ALL sports (and academics and every other aspect of the two universities). The only rivalries I think might compare would be NCU/Duke, Army/Navy and UCLA/USC. And all of those rivalries are enhanced by mutual conference membership (except Army/Navy, which is enhanced by tradition).

    As to the 16,000 who attended one Lipscomb/Belmont tournament game? I went to a high school that had about 800 students, but regular season home games were almost always sold out, even though the home games were played in a gymnasium that seated more than 4,200. When I was a sophomore, we played a regular season game with a rival high school in a larger arena before more than 6,800 fans. And the Indiana state high school championship game (now games) is regularly played before 18,000 or more fans year in and year out, even though it can be seen on free, over the air, TV throughout the entirety of the state.

    • Eric Angevine - Mar 8, 2013 at 1:46 PM

      I think the IU/PU rivalry was thrown for a loop by the formation of IUPUI. Nobody knows what’s going on there.

      • critter69 - Mar 9, 2013 at 12:11 AM

        Are you forgetting the IPFW campus in Fort Wayne, which has been in existence for several decades now (the combined campus since 1964, formed from previously established institutions)? The proper name of the school is Indiana University – Purdue University at Fort Wayne.

        And the IU/PU rivalry is still going full bore. In football, there is the battle for the Old Oaken Bucket, which has been fought over since 1925 (although the two universities have been playing an annualfootball game since 1920, and they first met on the football field in 1891; in basketball, it is not unusual for Indiana and Purdue to play a second game in the season, outside the Big Ten schedule, each year if they are not scheduled to meet twice in the Big Ten season; and in all other sports, the two universities know who they are playing, and the absolute hatred each has of each other.

        BTW – in the Bay Area of California, does anyone confuse Stanford for Cal? In the LA area, does anyone confuse UCLA for USC? Same with UW/WSU? UO/OSU? Arizona/ASU? UNC/NCSU? UM/MSU? Do people get confused by the University of Wisconsin and any other UW campus? Etc.?

    • N.A.O. - Mar 9, 2013 at 5:56 PM

      Army and Navy do play in the same conference, silly. They’re in the Patriot League, and are both independent in football (until Navy joins the New Big East) but play for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy with Air Force, which acts as a pseudo-conference title for the service academies.

      Also, we need no explanation that Indiana is to high school basketball as Texas is to high school football. Doesn’t change the fact that 16,000 fans for an NAIA game is massive. The best part about the Belmont-Lipscomb rivalry is that even though they’re in-conference, the schools are still committed to playing twice a year.

      • N.A.O. - Mar 9, 2013 at 5:57 PM

        *even though they’re no longer in-conference

    • stlouis1baseball - Mar 12, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      Well stated Critter.
      I will add the 1990 High School State Championship Game (featuring Damon Bailey’s Bedford North Lawrence Team) had over 49,000 people in attendence. To this day…that is a record. Don’t know how it will ever be surpassed. In addition, 8 of the 10 largest High School Gyms IN THE WORLD are located throughout the state of Indiana. The other two are in Dallas.

  8. ixepex - Mar 7, 2013 at 10:30 PM

    Xavier v. Dayton is pretty damn good.

  9. mcgillert - Mar 8, 2013 at 4:56 AM

    The Pacific Catholic Classic?

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