College basketball's final four rivalries
Louisville plays Kentucky on Saturday in the Final Four in the latest chapter of one of college basketball's most heated rivalries. Where, exactly, does the UL-UK rivalry rank in college hoops? Here’s our "final four:''
1. Duke-North Carolina
Sorry, Bluegrass State, but Duke-North Carolina (actually, we can drop "North'' and call it Duke-Carolina) is the best rivalry in college basketball. Don't feel bad. You could make a case that Duke-Carolina basketball is the best rivalry in all of sports. It's as competitive as heads vs. tails and as nasty as the Hatfields and McCoys.
The last time these teams met and neither was ranked in the writers or coaches poll was Feb. 25, 1955. They have met 70 times when both were ranked, each winning 35 times. Rarely do these teams meet without having a major impact on the ACC regular-season crown.
These programs, separated by a mere 8 miles, have a sort of love-hate relationship. In other words, they love to hate each other. By the way, they've never met in the NCAA Tournament. They did meet once in the NIT, back in 1971. Carolina beat Duke 73-67.
Here's how bitter this rivalry is: This week, a 68-year-old Kentucky fan and 71-year-old Louisville supporter got into a fistfight while one was get treatment at a dialysis clinic in Kentucky. No one would be surprised if coaches Rick Pitino (Louisville and John Calipari (Kentucky) got into a fight someday.
These teams didn't even play each other from 1959-83, but they met in the NCAA Tournament in 1959 (Louisville won 76-61), 1983 (Louisville 80-68 in overtime) and 1984 (Kentucky 72-67). They began playing regularly again in 1984.
The rivalry went up a notch when Pitino, who coached at Kentucky from 1989-97 and won a national title in 1996, took over at Louisville in 2001. But Saturday, the rivalry will go to another level as these schools become the first from the same state to play each other in the Final Four since Ohio State and Cincinnati in the 1962 final.
This rivalry, it seems, goes back to the beginning of time. In a way, it has. When Kansas and Missouri first started playing each other in 1907, Kansas was coached by James Naismith, who is often credited with inventing the game. The teams have met an astonishing 267 times, Kansas holding a 172-95 advantage.
There's an appropriate nickname for the rivalry: Border War. Hand-to-hand combat has been common, including 1961, when brawls broke out in two meetings and threatened to end the series.
This season featured two thrilling games with both teams ranked in the top 10. Missouri overcame a late eight-point deficit to win at home in Columbia, and Kansas overcame 19-point deficit to win in overtime at home in Lawrence. Sadly, that might be the last time these teams play for a while as Missouri jumps to the SEC next season.
Some might say the Big East has been the best conference in the nation over the past 30-some years. And you could make a strong case that Syracuse and Georgetown have been the two best teams in Big East play. Syracuse, mostly under coach Jim Boeheim has won more Big East games than any team while Georgetown is second. Syracuse has won 10 Big East regular-season titles, just one more than Georgetown.
Over the years, the rivalry has gone from intense to bitter. Actually, go all the way back to 1980, when Georgetown won the last game in Syracuse's Manley Field House, prompting legendary Hoyas coach John Thompson to say, "Manley Field House is officially closed.''
The rivalry hit its peak in the mid 1980s with the likes of Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams for Georgetown and Derrick Coleman and Pearl Washington for the Orange, but it remained strong through this season. Such a shame Syracuse is moving to the ACC (likely after next season).