Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Top 5 college basketball rivalries

Baseball has Yankees-Red Sox. The NFL has Cowboys-Redskins. The NHL has Colorado-Detroit and Toronto-Montreal. The NBA once had Lakers-Celtics, and now has it again. College football has a trophy up for grabs almost every Saturday, from the Apple Cup to the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

And college basketball has North Carolina and Duke. Of course, the Tar Heels and Blue Devils aren’t alone as they face off for the 226th time Wednesday, but they most certainly top the list of college basketball’s best rivalries, Tuesday’s Top Five:

5. Indiana-Purdue — This may have lost a little bit of its luster with Indiana rebuilding this season, but the Hoosiers have won six of the past seven. To get a sense of the heat this game can provoke, consider this: When Bobby Knight threw a chair onto the court 24 years ago, it was during a game against Purdue. And when Indiana won the national title in 1987, one of the Hoosiers’ four losses was to Purdue. They play only once this season, Feb. 21 at Purdue.

4. Connecticut-Tennessee women — After 22 meetings — six of those in the Final Four — the two schools stopped playing during the regular season two years ago after a disagreement between the two legendary coaches, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma. But this was — and would still be — the biggest game on the women’s schedule annually. UConn leads the series 13-9, but Tennessee has won the past three meetings and has the edge in NCAA titles, 8-5.

3. Kentucky-Louisville — Only Rick Pitino could be so slick as to leave Kentucky for the NBA, then return to college coaching with Louisville. His successor at UK, Tubby Smith, suffered upset losses to Louisville in his first two seasons with the Wildcats. These two teams hated each other so badly, an NCAA Tournament meeting in 1983 was their first matchup in 24 years. Since then, Kentucky leads the series 17-11. Pitino went 6-2 against Louisville at Kentucky and is 4-4 against Kentucky at Louisville.

2. Philadelphia Big 5 — This round-robin series between La Salle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova features the kind of local enmity ACC fans can appreciate. For years, all Big 5 games were played as doubleheaders at the Palestra, one of college basketball’s great arenas, but the move to home sites and Villanova’s entry into the Big East put an end to round-robin play in 1991. But the round-robin is back now, and lately, Drexel’s rise as a solid mid-major program has brought the Dragons inclusion in an informal “City 6.”

1. North Carolina-Duke — What really needs to be said? It’s the seventh time this decade both teams are ranked in the top 10. And Wednesday’s game isn’t even the biggest between the two this season. Imagine what it’s going to be like with Duke at the Smith Center for Tyler Hansbrough’s last home game in March?

- Luke DeCock

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