Skip to content

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Air Force loses freshman forward Garrett Thibodeaux to UTSA

    Jul 5, 2015, 10:03 PM EDT

    Dave Pilipovich Dave Pilipovich

    Thibodeaux’s decision came eight days after he began basic training.

  2. Alabama self-reported 13 minor violations last academic year, including one for men’s basketball

    Jul 5, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT

    University of Alabama University of Alabama

    All of the violations were deemed to be Level III or Level IV violations, which isn’t a big deal at all.

  3. How the non-US college players fared in the FIBA U19 World Championships

    Jul 5, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    2014 NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp Getty Images

    Plenty of college basketball players were in the FIBA U19 World Championships besides the Americans.

  4. USA U19 team wins in overtime of gold-medal game over Croatia at FIBA World Championships

    Jul 5, 2015, 3:37 PM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    The USA U19 team captured back-to-back FIBA World Championships for the first time since 1983.

  5. Mississippi State lands transfer wing

    Jul 5, 2015, 2:20 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Mississippi State landed a commitment on Sunday from a transfer.

  6. Kansas/USA defeats Brazil at World University Games

    Jul 5, 2015, 10:30 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Kansas (USA) is 2-0 so far at the World University Games.

  7. Mixtape of Class of 2016 five-star guard Markelle Fultz (VIDEO)

    Jul 5, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT

    markelle fultz

    Markelle Fultz is one the best guard prospects in the country.

  8. Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang posts double-double in World University Games opener

    Jul 4, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    Mangok Mathiang Mangok Mathiang

    Mathiang’s playing on an Australian team that includes the likes of Peter Hooley and Hugh Greenwood.

  9. Former South Carolina power forward Demetrius Henry transferring to La Salle

    Jul 4, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    (AP) AP

    The 6-foot-9 Henry averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game last season.

  10. United States advances to FIBA U19 World Championships gold medal game

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:59 PM EDT

    Jalen Brunson AP

    Jalen Brunson led the way with 30 points for the United States, which plays Croatia Sunday.

  11. Mixtape of five-star wing Miles Bridges (VIDEO)

    Jul 4, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT

    bridges

    Miles Bridges is one of the better scorers in the 2016 class.

  12. POSTERIZED: Jayson Tatum throws one down on Greek defender

    Jul 4, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT

    Nike Elite Youth Basketball League Getty Images

    The US is taking on the hosts in the semifinals, with the winner getting Croatia on Sunday.

  13. Players from Kentucky, Oregon, Gonzaga and Dayton trying out for Canadian national team

    Jul 4, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    Kyle Wiltjer (Getty Images) Getty Images

    Four players from 2015 NCAA tournament programs are trying out for the Canadian national team.

  14. Kansas opens World University Games with a win over Turkey

    Jul 4, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Kansas won its debut overseas this summer as Wayne Selden had a big outing.

  15. Four-star Class of 2016 guard commits to UConn

    Jul 4, 2015, 9:05 AM EDT

    (Nike) (Nike)

    UConn landed a quality guard in the Class of 2016.

  16. Report: Oregon point guard Ahmaad Rorie will transfer to Montana

    Jul 4, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT

    Ahmaad Rorie, Brandon Chauca AP

    Given Oregon’s many perimeter options, minutes were likely to be at a premium for Rorie in 2015-16.

  17. Louisiana Tech reduces transfer restrictions for Xavian Stapleton

    Jul 3, 2015, 7:30 PM EDT

    AP AP

    The rising sophomore was originally being blocked from transferring to 55 schools.

  18. Ohio State lands center Kaleb Wesson, first commit in 2017

    Jul 3, 2015, 6:08 PM EDT

    Thad Matta AP

    Ohio State begins its 2017 class with a local product.