Great rivalries are made of this
Ever since Cain bumped into his brother Abel, this world has been built on the backbone of antagonism.
For every superhero, there is a villain; for every superpower, there is an evil empire.
In every fairy tale, there's a monster; in every chick flick, there's another woman.
Sports rivalries are the most logical place for such dynamics of confrontation. There is always a winner and always a loser, which means someone is always ticked off.
The Trojans still think the Greeks cheated with that horse.
We pass on our sports acrimony from generation to generation like a treasured family heirloom. Young Yankees fans don't know exactly why they hate the Red Sox, other than their parents and grandparents told them to.
There is no logical reason for Syracuse and Georgetown fans to be so diametrically opposed -- they are not geographically bound to one another, for example -- yet here we are.
So as ESPN gives its annual tip of the cap to basketball's most intense rivalries, we at ESPN.com have dared to come up with a list that captures the characteristics and qualities that make for such beautiful loathing. For each we tried to choose a game -- not the game, mind you, but a game, as in an example -- that encapsulates that quality.
This is not a ranking, nor is it by any means a definitive list.
As a democracy, we are free to choose the team we love to hate and believe in our heart of hearts that no one hates as well as we do.
It's in small print in the Constitution.
This also is not a list based on university-on-university revulsion. Pigskin has no place on the hardwood, so football rivalries get no consideration here.
This is strictly basketball.
And now that we've told you what this list is not, here's hoping you enjoy it for what it is, a compilation of why and how rivalries take root.
We're sure your school fits in here somewhere.
-- Dana O'Neil
Austin Rivers didn't choose Duke because of its twice-a-year (at least) showdown with North Carolina. But it was, he said, a factor.
"There's a lot of great rivalries in college sports, but I think this one, as far as basketball goes, surpasses pretty much the other ones," the freshman guard said. " Just look at the past 10 years, at how many times UNC and Duke have been in the Final Four and won, that's pretty amazing.
"What other rivalries have that?"
Although only eight miles separate the universities, they're even closer together when it comes to basketball prestige.
In 21 of the past 31 NCAA tournaments, one of the Tobacco Road Blues has played in the Final Four. (Both reached it in 1991.) They've combined for eight NCAA titles in the past 30 seasons (and nine overall).
Wednesday will mark the 30th time in the past 64 meetings both are ranked in the Associated Press top 10.
In this showdown, it's not just about beating your neighbor. It's also about beating the bully that could keep you from the ultimate prize.
"It's two teams that traditionally win a lot of games -- and are in the run to maybe the national title," Blue Devils forward Ryan Kelly said. "And who across the country doesn't want to see that?"
Rivers, Kelly -- and the rest of both teams' rosters -- are too young to remember, but there was a time when this game didn't hold so much distinction. The adversaries first played in 1920 but didn't meet as top-five opponents until 1961, and it wasn't until Mike Krzyzewski came to Durham that Duke rose to its current level of prominence, hatred and hullabaloo, beginning in the mid-1980s.
They are rivals for many reasons: the disparate cultures of private versus public schools, the proximity, the history.
But lately, it all begins with the fact that they're both so dad-gum (to use a Roy Williams-ism) good.
"Both teams are going to be talented, both teams are going to be great, both teams are going to be two of the better teams in the country," UNC point guard Kendall Marshall said. "It's just a matter of who comes out with that will to win."
-- Robbi Pickeral
What do Georgetown and Syracuse have in common? Two things:
1. Conference affiliation.
2. Mutual disgust.
Really, there's no natural reason the Hoyas and the Orange would be rivals. Syracuse is nestled away in central New York; it takes a 374-mile drive through the heart of Pennsylvania to arrive on the Hoyas' doorstep, in the preppiest neighborhood in the nation's capital. This is no backyard brawl. But it is very much a brawl.
For much of the past 30 years -- starting with Jim Boeheim and John Thompson II, and continuing now with John Thompson III -- Georgetown and Syracuse have been the marquee rivalry in the Big East for one obvious reason: competition. Seemingly more often than not, when these teams have squared off, some share of the Big East title was on the line.
That's enough kindling to kick-start any good rivalry, but force of personality was the spark that lit the flame. On Feb. 13, 1980, Syracuse hosted Georgetown in Manley Field House, the old gym that preceded the birth of the 30,000-seat Carrier Dome. The Orange had won 57 straight at Manley, and they were heavily favored over Thompson's team. It was Syracuse's last game in the old gym. But Georgetown hung around, came back late and managed an almost unimaginable 52-50 win with two last-second free throws.
That's when Thompson, to that point an unknown entity to Syracuse fans, grabbed the arena microphone and unleashed one of the best lines in the history of college hoops: "Manley Field House is officially closed!" With that line, and the shower of hisses that followed, a rivalry was born.
It isn't about geography or culture or provincialism or in-state bragging rights or any of the other things that typically define a good rivalry. Georgetown-Syracuse is so good it doesn't need any of that. Good, old-fashioned hate is more than enough.
-- Eamonn Brennan
For the past decade, Gonzaga has ruled the West Coast Conference with an iron fist. "Will the Bulldogs win the league title?" Sounds weird, right? That's because you've probably never heard someone say it out loud. Why even ask? Of course Gonzaga is going to win the WCC. It won the conference last year, and the year before, and every year since 2001, and forever and ever, amen.
When a team is this dominant, it's not easy to develop rivals. The 10-year-old with the magnifying glass doesn't consider ants his rivals. For much of the past decade, this was the case with Gonzaga and its league; the WCC served as little more than a break between a brutal nonconference schedule and a perennial trip to the NCAA tournament.
The closest thing Gonzaga had to a consistent rival was Saint Mary's, but the Gaels could never quite get over the hump. From 2004 to 2009, Saint Mary's finished second in the WCC regular-season standings five times (and third once, in 2007). The program, improved as it was under Randy Bennett, was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The quiet resentment, one-sided though it might have been, simmered throughout.
And then, in 2010, Bennett's program broke through: Led by noisy forward Omar Samhan, Bennett's team blew Gonzaga out of the water in the WCC tourney title game. A week later, Samhan and the Gaels streaked to the Sweet 16, becoming household names in the process. The Gaels haven't faded since. In 2011, Saint Mary's split the WCC title with the Zags. Now, in 2012, Saint Mary's has the upper hand: Thanks to the brilliance of point guard Matthew Dellavedova, the Gaels are undefeated in league play, including an 83-62 home win over the Zags on Jan. 12. And it's not like the Zags are suddenly down. On the contrary: Saint Mary's is up.
On Thursday night, these teams will face off again, this time at Gonzaga. The stakes will be as high -- or even higher -- than ever. But whatever the outcome, it would be impossible for Gonzaga to dismiss Saint Mary's as a flash-in-the-pan. For the first time in a decade, the Zags could (gasp!) finish second in the WCC. Rivalries are always better when they're equitable. This, my friends, is a rivalry. For the first time in its recent history, Gonzaga isn't the only one with a magnifying glass.
-- Eamonn Brennan
You can slide the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry into just about any category.
Proximity? Only 80 miles of I-64 separate the campuses.
History? Although fractured, it dates 99 years.
Prestige? Kentucky has seven national titles, Louisville two.
Psychology? It was former Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton who called this the big brother/little brother meeting.
Hatred? Uh, yes.
But no other rivalry has been defined by the personality of the coaches better than this one.
Legendary Five-Star Camp director Howard Garfinkel once called John Calipari "the next Pitino," a title the young Calipari no doubt considered a compliment.
The middle-aged Calipari is now hell-bent on taking down his rival.
And Pitino? He can barely say Calipari's name.
Yet as fascinating as the dissolution of a relationship is between two men who followed similar paths with similar styles -- Northeasterners with a love for fast rebukes, top recruits and expensive suits -- Pitino and Calipari are merely picking up the baton.
Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall long ago engaged in their own battle of wills despite only two regular-season meetings between them. Of course, that was the crux of the problem. Old-school Hall refused to play his upstart counterpart despite constant hectoring from Crum. Hall never gave a reason, but the tacit one was understood: The elite Wildcats didn't need to play the lowly Cardinals.
In 1983, the NCAA forced Hall's hand. The Wildcats and Cardinals met in an NCAA tournament regional final, a meeting CBS Sports aptly called a "shotgun wedding."
In the days before the game, the first between the teams since 1959, reporter John Tesh asked Hall why he wouldn't play the Cardinals. Hall refused to answer, asking Tesh to turn off the cameras. "Could we dissolve here for just a minute?" Hall said.
Ever the gentleman, Hall smiled while refusing to answer. An exasperated Crum responded, "He wouldn't give you an answer, would he? Typical."
The Cardinals went on to beat the Wildcats to advance to the Final Four, and the rivalry resumed the following year, setting up what is now an annual rite of acrimony.
The polite simmer of dislike between Hall and Crum has been replaced with a public fencing match for the ages. Fitting today's sound bite world, the feud between Pitino and Calipari has gone viral.
Calipari, playing the part of the whippersnapper chafing at his elders, needles Pitino, saying Kentucky has a unique relationship with the Commonwealth because it is the only program in the state.
Pitino, in the role of the beleaguered statesman, won't deign to name his target: "I ignore the jealous. I ignore the malicious. I ignore the ignorant, and I ignore the paranoid. If the shoe fits anyone, wear it."
Animosity is a hard spouse to be faithful to. Crum and Hall buried the hatchet years ago and now co-host a daily radio show in Louisville -- the Joe B and Denny Show.
Could the Cal and Rick Show be far behind?
-- Dana O'Neil
Whenever his team played at Kansas, former Missouri coach Norm Stewart refused to spend the night before the game in Lawrence. Instead the Tigers rented a block of hotel rooms 30 miles away in Kansas City, Mo., and the next morning, Stewart instructed the bus driver to fill up his gas tank before crossing the state line.
The coach didn't want to pump any money into the Kansas economy.
Jayhawks fans roll their eyes at such stories and dismiss Stewart as childish. They'll turn up their noses and say their dominance of Missouri on the basketball court -- Kansas leads the series 171-95 -- has made victories over their rival anti-climatic.
Kansas' disdain for Missouri can be seen on the thousands of T-shirts that pepper the stands each time the teams play at Allen Fieldhouse.
"Muck Fizzou," they read.
When it comes to pure hatred, not many rivalries -- if any -- can match the 104-year feud between Kansas and Missouri, where the venom spewed between the schools each year is downright vicious.
Kansas' battle with Missouri actually dates to the 1800s, before the Civil War. It was then when a group of Confederate guerillas led by William Quantrill invaded Lawrence, burning the town and murdering nearly 200 people. Folks on the Missouri side are quick to note that the Jayhawkers were guilty of leading brutal raids throughout the western portion of their state, as well.
Whatever the case, the actions of those groups still spark emotion on both sides of the state line 150 years later.
These days the fans seem to get into the rivalry more than the players. Many have been classless. In 2003, during his Senior Day speech at Allen Fieldhouse, Nick Collison mentioned his admiration for his grandfather, who was badly injured during a World War II plane crash but survived. Soon after, when Kansas visited Columbia, Missouri's infamous student group, The Antlers, held up a sign that read "Plane Crash" whenever Collison shot free throws.
That same year, after Missouri guard Ricky Clemons was arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, female Kansas fans showed up to the Jayhawks' home game against the Tigers sporting fake black eyes.
The ultimate smack in the face, however, came last fall after Missouri announced it was leaving the Big 12 for the SEC following this season. The Tigers have said they want to continue their series with Kansas in a nonconference tilt each season on a neutral court. The Jayhawks -- who don't need the game nearly as bad as Missouri -- have no interest.
Even without a basketball and a court, the hatred will live on.
-- Jason King
Inscribed on a plaque that sits in the living museum that is the Palestra are these words from former Princeton coach Butch van Breda Kolff:
"I just never liked Penn. Don't know why, just never did."
Perhaps it's because when you attend either Princeton or Penn, a dislike for the other is handed out with your dorm key.
These schools are close geographically -- a quick ride down I-95 will get you from the suburban green of Princeton to the urban West Philadelphia digs of Pennsylvania -- and close academically. US World & News Report ranked Princeton second and Penn fifth this year, which makes the annual "safety school" barb directed at whichever team is losing cleverly amusing.
More than anything, these two have a history.
Like most things in the Ancient Eight, this rivalry is old, dating to 1903. It includes famous names (Bill Bradley, Princeton, Class of '65) and infamous ones (Corky Calhoun, who won free drinks on the Penn campus for life with his 1971 buzzer-beater that preserved a perfect season), doctors (Gabe Lewullis), Rhodes scholars (John Wideman) and future NBAers (Geoff Petrie, the 1971 NBA Rookie of the Year).
Future Hall of Famers Chuck Daly and Pete Carril once opposed each other on the sideline, and both teams can lay claim to a Final Four appearance -- 1965 for the Tigers, 1979 for Penn.
But this is about more than just the history of the two schools.
It's about the history between them.
The Ivy League officially formed in 1956. In the 56 years since, Princeton or Penn has won or shared the basketball crown 47 times.
It would make for a fierce battle under normal circumstances, but basketball in the Ivy League isn't normal. The NCAA has never awarded an at-large bid to the conference, making this the ultimate winner-take-all throw-down.
Penn four times has handed Princeton its lone Ivy League blemish. The Tigers have reciprocated with four stains on the Quakers' ledger, and three times the two have met in a dreaded one-game playoff to determine which of the co-conference winners would get the NCAA bid.
Games between the two are equal parts epic and legendary, from Calhoun's late shot in regulation to Princeton's 1999 comeback from 27 points down in the second half.
Now even their coaches are part of the history. Jerome Allen was a Penn senior and Mitch Henderson a freshman during the 1994-95 season.
Allen claimed the Ivy title that year, the third of his career.
Henderson and Princeton, naturally, took the next three.
-- Dana O'Neil
The disgusting aftermath of a rivalry gone wrong still lingers in the national sports conscience. The melee that prematurely ended the 2011-12 edition of the Crosstown Shootout between Xavier and Cincinnati in December impacted the entire college basketball landscape.
Refs raised their alert levels. Coaches demanded more self-discipline from players. School officials promised stiff penalties for future violators of hardwood decorum. Critics demanded suspensions.
Fans and followers of the series, however, seemed shocked by the reaction. They didn't condone the late-game fisticuffs but questioned the outsiders who'd felt compelled to comment on the rivalry.
We don't understand its parameters and the role that the schools' proximity plays in the emotion between them, they said. Two campuses separated by three miles but culturally disconnected. This is the Golden Girls versus the Kardashians.
Cincinnati bullied the small Jesuit school that sits 10 minutes from its campus in the early stages of the rivalry, which commenced in 1928 and became an annual affair in 1946. For decades, the Bearcats rolled over the Musketeers. But they also portrayed a negative image because of low graduation rates and the recruitment of troublesome prospects.
Despite its early losses, Xavier presented an opposing picture of a program so pristine that some fans began to attach the stereotypical "Catholics versus Convicts" tag to the series. So close, but so far apart.
The trash talk that preceded the Crosstown Brawl in December didn't start with that game. This rivalry had been heated for years. In the early 1990s, Bob Huggins refused to shake Pete Gillen's hand after a Cincinnati loss. Although no meeting had reached the explosive level of December's encounter, many pushes, shoves and verbal barbs in past matchups between players who see one another around town and during summer pickup games could have led to a similar fracas.
The rivalry intensified when Xavier began to compete with its intra-city foe. Cincinnati lost twice to Xavier in the 1990s during seasons in which it had achieved a No. 1 ranking. The Musketeers have won 11 of the past 16 Crosstown Shootouts.
This is it for Cincinnati sports fans during the gap that follows the end of the Bengals' season and the start of spring training for the Reds. The NBA left town in the 1970s. So locals get their hoops fix from its premier college programs.
A local TV station refused to interrupt coverage of the Crosstown Shootout to broadcast the 1990 State of the Union address. Even the president can't come between this true rivalry.
-- Myron Medcalf
BYU-Utah is the biggest rivalry in the state of Utah.
But those two programs have been on equal footing for quite some time.
A better-kept secret resides within the state's borders. In fact, on the hardwood, the intensity of Utah State-BYU may rival the Holy War.
One former BYU player said, "What do BYU and Utah State students have in common? They all applied to BYU. There is a little brother syndrome."
BYU leads the series 136-92 and 84-32 in Provo, while Utah State leads 60-51 in Logan. (BYU won the only neutral-site meeting.)
The first meeting was Feb. 23, 1906.
BYU is in Provo, easily accessible from Salt Lake City. Utah State is in Logan, not a smooth trek from SLC.
"They recruit the same kids," said former BYU guard Austin Ainge, who now works for his dad, BYU alum Danny Ainge, with the Boston Celtics. "Many players on both teams are from Utah and have rivalries from high school. Basketball is huge in the state. There is a gym in every Mormon church, and everyone plays in city and church leagues. It's serious.
"I have scouted and played all over the country, and Utah State is the most hostile home-court advantage I have been to. I loved playing there. Utah State-BYU has been more hostile and heated than Utah-BYU in the last 10 years."
There is truth in that since the Utes have been going through a down cycle while BYU was atop the Mountain West (now in the WCC) and Utah State was the lead dog in the WAC under Stew Morrill.
BYU coach Dave Rose and former assistant Dave Rice, also a former Utah State assistant and now the head coach at UNLV, echoed the same point: "It's the same region, they recruit the same guys and the programs have great tradition."
The hatred isn't between the coaches. The fan bases have mutual passion. The home courts are as loud and boisterous as any in the country. And for the Aggies, knocking off BYU can help legitimize them in the state and beyond.
-- Andy Katz
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