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The villains are missing.
The hatred, the jealousy and the nastiness are no more.
Rivalries have tamed in college basketball.
My two favorites from covering the sport for the past 20 years -- outside of the obvious North Carolina-Duke -- were obscure nationally but not in the region in which I worked.
The New Mexico State-New Mexico and BYU-Utah rivalries in the 1990s had real venom between the coaches, programs and schools.
Then-New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy was a classic villain. He loved and relished that role. He recruited off the radar, trolling around for junior college- and four-year transfers. He was his own breed. He didn't conform. He would smoke a clove cigarette on the ramp leading down to the Pit floor at New Mexico, despite the clear violation of doing so in the building. He didn't care. I witnessed him scoff at those who passed by as he puffed. He loved to challenge the media, once pounding the press table after a key play during the game and saying to a colleague of mine, "How'd you like that?" This was during the game.
He loved being the one person who everyone in the building wanted to boo. And, of course, he loved to send Dave Bliss and the Lobos cowering back three hours from Las Cruces to Albuquerque if they won at the Pan Am Center.
New Mexico was the favored state school. New Mexico State? It was the less-publicized of the two since it was closer to Texas than the state capital in Santa Fe.
McCarthy and Bliss didn't like each other. The players weren't chums. And the fan bases couldn't stand one another, either.
|Former BYU coach Roger Reid's hatred for Utah's Rick Majerus made the Cougars-Utes rivalry one to watch in the 1990s.|
The hatred between BYU and Utah was even more intense. BYU coach Roger Reid, now the coach at Southern Utah, couldn't stand Utah's Rick Majerus, now the coach at Saint Louis, because of Majerus' popularity with the national media and the power brokers in the state. They weren't friends. They didn't pretend to be buddies. There was an obvious jealousy that Reid had of Majerus that was apparent every time their teams played.
The games were nasty, chippy and intense. It helped that, as was the case in the Lobos-Aggies rivalry, both teams performed at a high level in the '90s. But what made Utah-BYU even more intense was that they were in the WAC together. Utah was the state school and BYU was owned and operated by the Mormon Church. The players were familiar with each other and there was an intensity that existed in every game.
When Reid left, the Cougars sunk (before their revival began under Steve Cleveland and now has flourished under Dave Rose), and the rivalry was tempered. Ray Giacoletti of Utah was not an antagonist, either, and the intensity of the rivalry waned. The common respect between current coaches Rose and Utah's Jim Boylen has lessened the rivalry as well. Now that the schools are heading off to different conferences -- Utah to the Pac-12 and BYU the WCC -- it will be hard to replicate the rivalry. If the schools choose to do what New Mexico and New Mexico State still do -- play home-and-home despite being in different leagues -- then it has a chance to survive. But much like the Lobos-Aggies rivalry has been diminished because of the calm nature of Steve Alford (UNM) and Marvin Menzies (NMSU), the BYU-Utah rivalry may be hard to go back to its angry stage of the '90s.
I asked my colleagues on ESPNU's "The Experts" on Tuesday what were their favorite rivalries in the sport as a player, coach or fan. Here's what they had to say:
Mark Gottfried, former Alabama player: "To me it was Auburn-Alabama back when it was Wimp Sanderson and Sonny Smith. The recruiting battles were nasty."
Stephen Bardo, former Illinois player: "Our rival was Iowa. We hated Iowa. They had pros like B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble, Brad Lohaus; they had eight pros. We never won in Iowa City. And you had the whole Bruce Pearl thing [turning in Illinois as an Iowa assistant for a recruiting violation]. Now that's come full circle."
Adrian Branch, former Maryland player and area product: "Growing up for me it was NC State versus Maryland. Whoever beat each other was going to win the national championship in 1974. When I played, it was us and Virginia, the two most Northern schools before Virginia Tech got in the ACC. In my four years, it was us then. But growing up it was Len Elmore of Maryland against David Thompson of NC State. "
Len Elmore, former Maryland player, native of New York: "Back then, it was St. John's before the Big East. The rivalries were with all the other New York schools. There was a lot of good college basketball. But I'd also say Davidson versus North Carolina when it was Lefty Driesell versus Dean Smith."
Fran Fraschilla, who was once a former assistant at Providence: "The Providence-Rhode Island rivalry was the most hated I've been a part of.''
Going forward, these are the rivalries I'm interested in seeing develop:
|Kansas coach Bill Self (right) and Texas' Rick Barnes have a friendly rivalry that should only get better in future seasons.|
Kansas-Texas: Bill Self and Rick Barnes don't have a testy relationship. They like each other quite well. But these are clearly the two best teams in the Big 12 and now the 10-team Big 12. Finally, the two will play home-and-home every season, allowing the fans for both squads to get a look at the other each season. The rivalry has a real chance of developing, even if it's not nasty, because it will be the two elite programs going forward in the league.
Baylor-Texas A&M: There is no love between these two staffs. They play twice each season and the games have been very competitive. This trend should continue. The rivalry doesn't get much attention out of Texas, but it should.
St. John's-Rutgers: There is no way Steve Lavin could have a tense rivalry with anyone. It's not in his nature. But there will be a rivalry between the two staffs in recruiting now that Mike Rice is at Rutgers. And if Rutgers can continue to improve, this should be a competitive rivalry, which would be good for the New York-area market.
Memphis-UTEP: Josh Pastner is hardly someone to dislike, either. But Tim Floyd's presence in El Paso means Memphis will have a competitor in recruiting for the long haul. Expect these two programs to set the standard in Conference USA.
Harvard-Princeton: Penn coach Jerome Allen will have something to say about the top two spots in the Ivy. And nothing in the Ivy can or will replace Penn-Princeton. But the top spot for the foreseeable future is Harvard-Princeton. It might be the most competitive competition for the next few years as Sydney Johnson and Tommy Amaker build conference powers.
Arizona-UCLA: Welcome back this rivalry. Sean Miller has the Wildcats atop the Pac-10. UCLA isn't going to fade. And while Washington has been a consistent top-four Pac-10 program, the two elites in this conference in the '90s were UCLA and Arizona. They have the most national reach. And it should be the best annual rivalry in the future. Hopefully, under the new Pac-12 basketball schedule, this is a protected rivalry that ensures they play twice every season.