There’s a feeling among some sports fans that it’s not enough to see their team win. No week is complete without also seeing their biggest rivals suffer a crushing defeat.
Because, although sport is undeniably about competition, there are just some opponents that generate an extra level of animosity, if that’s not too strong a word.
There are any number of reasons for this to arise. Geographical proximity is one and so are wrongs committed in the past. These can range from winning under dubious circumstances to luring away star players.
Fierce sporting rivalries occur in individual sports as well as team ones. Just think back to the battles between Ali and Frazier in the boxing ring and Martina Navratilova and Chris Lloyd Evert on the tennis court.
But today we’re focusing on basketball. More precisely on college basketball and six of the biggest rivalries in the sport. This is especially relevant as the season’s March Madness predictions are already getting into full swing.
The fairly random nature of who plays who, in the early rounds at least, means that clashes between sworn rivals often occur. And with the raised stakes of the championship finals it can give these games even greater significance.
Kansas v Missouri
In the history of rivalries one of the longest running was between Kansas and Missouri. It was so heartfelt and serious that it was even given its own name – the Border War. Its roots went back as far as interstate disagreements in the Civil War and in 1907 it moved onto the baseball court. Luckily, or unluckily depending on your point of view, the 2013 college basketball realignment means that the teams no longer meet each other in the course of the season. But the memories of the rivalry live on.
Syracuse v Georgetown
It’s said to be the biggest clash in the Big East Conference today and the two universities do certainly provoke very strong feelings in each other. It runs through every level including coaches, players and the fans and has led to some very lively encounters in the past. One of the biggest of these came in February 1980 when Syracuse were playing their final game at Manley Field House before it closed down for good. Georgetown scraped home with a 52-50 point victory. To rub salt in the wounds, their coach John Thompson Jr. announced that “Manley Field House is now officially closed”.
New Mexico v New Mexico State
Far from feeling any kind of State kinship, this is a feud that goes way back to the 1800s. It also continues despite the fact that the teams play in completely different conferences. Not to be frustrated by this fact, they continue to meet at least twice every year. Plus there is an agreement between the two universities that in every varsity meeting, whatever the sport, one point is awarded to the winner. At the end of that academic year these are then added up and an ultimate victor is crowned.
Cincinnati v Xavier
Rivalries don’t come very much closer than this – it will only take you about ten minutes to drive from one campus to another. But in mutual understanding and respect, they’re a million miles apart. It’s a conflict that dates back to 1927 – and it really is a conflict. In a game played between the two teams back in 2011 a full-scale brawl broke out and it famously had to be abandoned.
Kentucky v Louisville
Some say this is the biggest rivalry of all and the fact that the teams clash often makes it all the more intense. It’s fair to say that there has been considerable provocation in the past, especially between the coaches even before one of them was involved with Kentucky. While at Massachusetts John Calipari faced a press conference before a clash with Louisville in a Rick Pitino mask. So when the former moved to Kentucky, the rivalry stepped up another gear or two.
Duke v North Carolina
While it’s never quite descended into all-out fighting, the clashes between these two local rivals are always very physical affairs. It’s another of the rivalries that has been given an official title, in this case The Battle of Tobacco Road and it’s made all the more engrossing as the two teams are so evenly matched. So no-one can accurately predict from season to season exactly who will be victorious.
There are countless other rivalries we could go into including UCLA v Arizona, Michigan v Ohio State and Indiana v Purdue, but none have quite the edge of the big six. And, while most of them are lodged in history, there’s no reason why new rivalries shouldn’t spring up still, especially if any of the clashes in the 2023 March Madness prove to be controversial – and in basketball you should always expect the unexpected.