Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Noncon rivalries that should be rekindled
By Dana O'Neil
Kentucky versus Indiana and the Border War are only on hiatus. That’s what we’d like to believe. Eventually, the Wildcats and Hoosiers can find their way back to Bloomington and Lexington and that cooler heads will prevail in Kansas and Missouri.
Because, hey, isn’t what they say true? That nothing lasts forever?
Apparently animosity can do a pretty darned good imitation.
While we lament loudly and rightly the end of these terrific games, they are not the first to go by the wayside. Our game’s history is littered with great games that are no longer played for reasons both legit and petty. Other fans have suffered just like us and others have believed, just like us, that their two teams will play again someday despite calendars flipping through years and even decades.
Well, we want someday to be today. On Tuesday, Eamonn Brennan took a look at some rivalries that recent realignment has wrecked but that we'd love to see continued in the nonconference. Today, we want to convene a great big basketball Kumbaya session and make some great old rivalries come back to life in the noncon season:
Maryland-Georgetown: The Beltway battle hasn’t been played at all since 1993 and hasn’t been a home-and-home series since the 1973-74 season. Most everyone agrees that’s a shame.
Most everyone also agrees that President Barack Obama has a better chance at eliminating partisanship than the Terrapins and Hoyas have at playing one another again. The animosity between the two goes back decades, encompassing simmering turf feuds, recruiting wars and rather large coaching personalities.
It hit a new stalemate earlier this year when Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson decreed the Terps would no longer play the Hoyas in any sports -- including the nonrevenue sports -- until Georgetown agreed to play Maryland in basketball again.
Stunningly, that didn’t go over real well in D.C.
Cincinnati-Ohio State: This should be a natural. Two powerful state schools separated by 100 miles of highway who share a unique piece of basketball history -- in 1961 and again in 1962, the Buckeyes and Bearcats played each other in the national title game.
Instead, the two schools celebrated the 50th anniversary of their second title game only because of the luck of the NCAA tournament draw. Ohio State beat Cincinnati this season in the Sweet 16, marking the first time they’ve met since 2006 and only the second time since that title game (and that 2006 game was a made-for-television event played in Indianapolis, which, at last check, isn’t in Ohio).
So what’s the problem? No one will say. Pressed during the NCAA tournament, there were plenty of evasive shoulder shrugs and “We’re just worried about this game’’ non-responses.
Gonzaga-Washington: Mark Few isn’t terribly optimistic the Bulldogs and Huskies can reunite. Asked once what he thought the odds were to renew the rivalry, the Gonzaga coach quipped, “About the same as Bigfoot having my baby.’’
The game between the two disparate schools yet equally powerful programs in Washington state frayed and ended in 2006 amid recruiting battles (fighting over a prospect is apparently the basketball equivalent of fighting over a girl).
No, this didn’t have the history or cachet of some others on this list, but both would be served well by playing the other. Gonzaga spends the better part of its nonconference season collecting frequent-flier miles in an effort to gain RPI bonus points. A nice four-hour jaunt could serve the same purpose, but in a lot less time.
And while maybe once there was a time that Washington could argue it had "nothing to gain" by playing Gonzaga, that opinion is as dated as short basketball shorts. The Zags won eight of the final 10 against U-Dub and are a legit national program, offering a nice strength of schedule boost, one that perhaps the Huskies would have welcomed this season when they finished atop a soft Pac-12 in the regular season and still were relegated to the NIT.
UCLA-Notre Dame: Back when -- when conference affiliation, geographic constraints and in-season tournaments didn’t clog the schedule -- the Bruins and Fighting Irish met annually, sometimes even twice a year, for a 29-season stretch. The total: 42 games between 1966 and 1995.
It was, in fact, Notre Dame that halted UCLA’s 88-game win streak in 1974, during Bill Walton’s senior year.
The rivalry ended because ... well, that depends on who you ask. Scheduling difficulties after Notre Dame joined the Big East is a logical culprit, but others have said -- and even written -- that UCLA pulled the plug because it was tired of the Irish dodging the Bruins on the football field.
Whatever, the two have not entirely avoided each other since. They’ve met four times in the past 17 years -- most recently in a home-and-home a few years ago -- but it is now more a nod to the nostalgic past than the heated game it once was.
Connecticut-Boston College: Stubborn? Perhaps. But Jim Calhoun is, if nothing else, a man of his word, and when Boston College announced it was leaving the Big East, the UConn coach vowed the Huskies and Eagles would never meet again so long as he was head coach.
And here we sit, seven years later, and Connecticut and BC have not entertained one another despite their geographic convenience and New England ties.
It was more than just Calhoun’s threat, of course -- the fact that UConn actually led the charge to file a lawsuit to block Boston College’s move to the ACC didn’t exactly help mend fences -- but now the Eagles are getting their revenge.
During the most recent conference shifts, UConn tried to test the ACC waters but was met by a dam in the form of BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo, who said he blocked the move in an effort to protect his New England "turf."
Since then, no less than the Connecticut governor has tried to intervene -- Dannel P. Malloy is a Boston College graduate -- and the two sides have tentatively discussed an olive branch.
But Calhoun is still the coach.
One more that ought to be reinstated permanently ...
Texas-Arkansas: Before conference realignment, 1990s style, put an end to it, the Texas-Arkansas feud was one of the best and most entertaining in the country. But then the Razorbacks left for the SEC and the Southwest Conference tournament title game in 1991 (won by Arkansas) would be the last between the two for 15 years.
So kudos to both schools for rekindling the old flame, signing a four-year home-and-home series in 2006. Now can we get a permanent re-up?
And two schools we’d like to applaud ...
Louisville-Memphis: These two met regularly in what were some fierce battles in the 1970s, 1980s and again in the 1990s when they squared off in Conference USA. Then the Cardinals bolted for the Big East and we were left with the YouTube clip of Darius Washington missing two of free throws with no time left in the 2005 C-USA tournament to fill our void.
This past season in Louisville, the two squared off for the first time since that epic finish, and this coming season, Memphis plays host.
And who says conference realignment is all bad? In 2014, the Tigers join the Big East, making these two league foes once again.