Commentary

When a rivalry isn't really a rivalry

Originally Published: February 10, 2012
By Eamonn Brennan | ESPN.com

WEEK: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The Bottom 10 inspirational thought of the week:


So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise
You better see right through that mother's eyes
Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
The one mistake you made was in your head
Ah, how do you sleep?
Ah, how do you sleep at night?

You live with straights who tell you you was king
Jump when your momma tell you anything
The only thing you done was yesterday
And since you're gone you're just another day
Ah, how do you sleep?
Ah, how do you sleep at night?

-- John Lennon, "How Do You Sleep?"

OK, OK: This is not a particularly inspirational song. Lennon's one-off track about former bandmate Paul McCartney* -- recorded with George Harrison in 1971 -- may have been the first dis track ever recorded, the "Ether" of the post-1960s psychedelic comedown. At the time, it laid bare the seething acrimony at the heart of the Beatles' devastating breakup, not to mention how much of a ruthless jerk Lennon could be. As it turns out, the guy who wrote "All You Need Is Love," was indeed a big ol' jerk.

(*Lennon once told an interviewer that the song was really about his own issues, but come on. He wasn't fooling anybody.)

But for Beatles completists with the benefit of 40 years of perspective, "How Do You Sleep?" also emphasized what made the band so great: The rivalry between Lennon and McCartney, the legendary duo whose combustible relationship and contrasting styles -- Lennon the artistic purist, McCartney the pop-song stylist -- each combined with the other to go to an entirely different, still-unsurpassed level. Lennon pushed back against McCartney's cheesiness; McCartney sanded the edges off Lennon's darker tones. Together, this combination wrote the best songs of all time. As lads, they loved each other. As men, they hated each other. Throughout it all, they needed each other, maybe more than they ever knew.

Such is the case with the greatest rivalries in sports generally, or college hoops specifically: At their best, rivals push each other to a different level, creating something more than the sum of their respective parts. There are so many such duos in college basketball that when Rivalry Week rolls around each season -- as it has in glorious fashion this week -- the college hoops fan's head can only spin.

In honor of this magnificent seven days, the latest edition of Bottom 10 leads with the essence of Rivalry Week. It was easy to revel in the magic of Duke's Austin Rivers-led comeback in Chapel Hill Wednesday. The flip side of Duke's magic? UNC's meltdown. It also details lopsided rivalries and the football barn burners we wish were better on the hardwood, as well as the weekly batch of usual suspects.

All that and more below. With apologies to Steve Harvey and Ringo Starr (poor Ringo), here's this week's Bottom 10.

(If you need a primer on the Bottom 10's governing principles, see our first edition here.)

1. North Carolina's Nightmare

Offense: Momentous meltdown
Bottom 10 judgment: "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." Well, you saw it. And if you didn't see it, you probably read about it, or listened to sports talk radio, or saw it on "SportsCenter" any of the roughly 8,000 it was featured between Wednesday night and today. Still, for as good as Duke was in the last 2 minutes and 38 seconds of Wednesday night's miraculous comeback victory -- in which the Blue Devils erased an 11-point deficit and stole a win thanks to Rivers' brilliant buzzer-beater -- the Tar Heels was just as bad. And for that matter, unlucky. Count the ways: Tyler Zeller's missed free throws, Zeller's crazy tip-in, Kendall Marshall's turnover to Mason Plumlee (which led to the Seth Curry 3 that cut the lead to four), Harrison Barnes' out-of-control charge, and so much more. All told, Duke went on a 13-2 run in the final two and a half minutes, in which UNC didn't even attempt a field goal. All the while, the UNC fans in the Dean Dome were stuck, suspended, helpless to watch the carnage unfold. If the final moments were directed by Martin Scorsese, I like to think he'd have picked Harrison's most famous song as his pitch-perfect soundtrack. From UNC's perspective, it certainly fits.

"I look at the world and I notice it's turning/While my guitar gently weeps/With every mistake we must surely be learning/Still my guitar gently weeps"

2. Alabama 68, Auburn 50

Offense: Utter hoops irrelevance
Bottom 10 judgment: "You Won't See Me." Auburn could probably get on the Bottom 10 by itself this season, but I'm less concerned with the rebuilding Tigers' substandard play than with the fact that this game went by Tuesday night with nary a peep. Sure, sure: These are football schools, and the culture in the state is all pigskin, all the time. For good reason. Few rivalries in American sports can match up to the Iron Bowl. But that's precisely the disappointment. Alabama has been nationally relevant at various times in the past decade, including under current coach Anthony Grant; there's nothing that says Auburn can't get there, either. Imagine if these two fan bases put a fraction of the energy they spend on signing day into following the basketball programs. Imagine the rivalry we college hoops fans would be treated to! Instead, well, we get this.

Plenty of football rivalries fail to carry over to the hardwood. The Florida-Miami-Florida State triumvirate is die-hard in football and blah in hoops; Oklahoma-Texas could be so much better; Notre Dame-Michigan (or even Notre Dame-Purdue) barely exist when winter rolls around. Hell, even Ohio State-Michigan lacks a certain edge indoors. But it's hard to find a rivalry so simultaneously mind-blowing in football and boring in hoops -- at least from a national perspective -- as the court-bound version of the Iron Bowl. More like the Yawn Bowl, am I right? (Is this thing on?)

"Time after time/You refuse to even listen/I wouldn't mind/If I knew what I was missing"

3. The Arizona-Arizona State "Rivalry"

Offense: Little brother can't catch a break
Bottom 10 judgment: "You Really Got a Hold On Me." There are plenty of lopsided rivalries in college hoops, ones in which both teams and fan bases genuinely hate each other despite the constant superiority one program wields over the other. But few can match the combination of hatred and imbalance seen in this matchup, which features genuine dislike on both sides despite Arizona's near-constant dominance. Since 1913, these teams have played each other 221 times. Arizona leads the series 142-79. The Wildcats are 79-28 all time in Tucson and 62-50 in Tempe, and the ownership has been particularly pronounced in the past two decades. Lute Olson's (and now Sean Miller's) program has won 28 of the past 35 meetings.

Usually, rivalries form because there's a give and take. That's not the case here. And while other all-time little brothers -- for example, Kansas State in re. Kansas -- have closed the gap in recent seasons, Arizona State is currently struggling through one of its worst years in recent memory. If ever there was a time to catch the Wildcats in a quasi-rebuilding year, this is it. Still, in a strange way, it's a compliment to the intensity of the hatred between both schools that this is actually a legitimate rivalry at all. There's that, at least.

"I want to leave you/Don't want to stay here/Don't want to spend/Another day here/Oh, oh, oh, I want to split now/I just can quit now/You've really got a hold on me"

4. Kansas State 65, Texas Tech 46

Offense: More fouls than field goals
Bottom 10 judgment: "I'll Cry Instead." As the last winless major conference team in the country, Texas Tech has carved out its own place on the Bottom 10 in weeks past. But this week brings a different flavor; this was more than garden-variety ugliness. The Associated Press allowed itself one pithy phrase in the recap: "Offense was a challenge for both teams." Our Stats and Info group was factual, but slightly more direct. "The two teams combined for 26 made field goals, matching the fewest in a Division I game this season (Cal Poly and USC combined for 26 in a 42-36 Cal Poly win on Nov. 19). Texas Tech and Kansas State also combined for 53 fouls Tuesday. It's the first time this year two teams combined for at least twice as many fouls as field goals. The differential of 27 more fouls than field goals is three more than in any other game this season." Yep: Fifty-three fouls. Twenty-six field goals. Crying is an appropriate response.

Also: Texas Tech still hasn't won a Big 12 game. This brutal performance moved it to 0-11. Yikes.

"I've got a chip on my shoulder that's bigger than my feet/I can't talk to people that I meet/And if I could see you now/I'd try to make you sad somehow"

5. Connecticut Huskies

Offense: At least act like you're trying
Bottom 10 judgment: "Help!" This week, the Huskies set a Bottom 10 record: They're the first team we've kept in this honorary No. 5 spot for two consecutive weeks. Last Friday, the Bottom 10 lamented UConn's baffling struggles in a 44-point performance at Georgetown, but that has nothing on what the Huskies showcased Monday night. Which, to put it frankly, was obvious indifference. The broadcast team of Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery -- not to mention those of us following along on Twitter -- looked on in horror as UConn was blown out at Louisville. It wasn't just the score. It was UConn's borderline pathetic lack of effort. As the game opened up in the second half, the Huskies flung wayward shot after wayward shot at the rim. When they didn't go in, this hypertalented but disappointing team failed to even pretend to run back on defense; highly touted lottery pick Andre Drummond was pulled (and browbeaten by his coaching staff) in the second half after several possessions of obvious indifference.

By the time Kyle Kuric threw down a monster dunk on yet another 3-on-1 fast break, Bilas said Louisville was having a "party," and the Huskies had turned an ugly road defeat into a flat-out embarrassment. Forward Alex Oriakhi said as much, adding: "We took a butt-whipping and we didn't fight back." Ryan Boatright said UConn "basically gave up." The loss was UConn's fifth in six games and seventh in their last 10. Between this and university president Susan Herbst's laughable APR proposal, this week was the nadir of an already bad season.

"Help me if you can, I'm feeling down/And I do appreciate you being 'round/Help me get my feet back on the ground/Won't you please, please help me"

6. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Offense: Extreme inaccuracy
Bottom 10 judgment: "A Day In The Life." It's been a rough season in Atlanta for first-year coach Brian Gregory, but few nights were tougher than Thursday's loss at NC State. The troubles weren't hard to pinpoint: Georgia Tech shot 1 of 17 -- yes, 1 of 17 -- from beyond the arc, good for a whopping 5.9 percent. Per our Stats and Info group, that was the second-worst 3-point field goal percentage in a single game this season with at least 17 3-point field goal attempts by a team from a power six conference. The only team worse? Texas A&M, which went 0-for-17 from 3 versus Alcorn State earlier this season. Fortunately for the Aggies, that night came before the advent of the Bottom 10. Georgia Tech was not so lucky.

"And though the holes were rather small/They had to count them all/Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall"

7. USC Trojans

Offense: Worst of the worst
Bottom 10 judgment: "No Reply." It's a little bit remarkable that USC is this bad. The Trojans force the most turnovers per trip of any team in the Pac-12. They cough up the fewest. They defend -- if not well, then at least capably. And yet, USC -- a team playing in an historically bad Pac-12, it should be noted -- still has just one win in conference play, which came over the nearly-as-bad Utah Utes two weeks ago. Why? Its inability to reply with anything resembling offensive ability. In the past seven days, USC was blown out twice: The first came at Washington 69-41; the second came Thursday night at home to Cal 75-49. As you can see, the Trojans failed to break the 50-point barrier in both games for the ninth and 10th times this season. Their average points per trip in each game was -- wait for it -- .68. You have to be a special brand of bad to be 1-11 in the 2012 Pac-12. The Trojans are.

"This happened once before/When I came to your door/No reply"

8. Santa Clara Broncos

Offense: Winless in the WCC
Bottom 10 judgment: "Tell Me What You See." Believe it or not, there was a point in this season when Santa Clara appeared to be on the rise. It came in November, when the Broncos beat New Mexico and Villanova (and hung tough with Oklahoma) at the 76 Classic. Since then, the wheels have come off. After Thursday night's 85-69 loss at San Francisco, the Broncos are 0-11 in West Coast Conference play. Sure, the West Coast Conference has some decent teams in the mix. It's more than just Saint Mary's, Gonzaga and BYU. Even so, let's be real: A winless WCC record is hard to defend. (Unlike Santa Clara! Zing! Again, is this thing on?) Oh, and it gets worse: SC's next three opponents are -- you guessed it -- Saint Mary's, Gonzaga and BYU. Ouch.

"Big and black the clouds may be, time will pass away"

9. Binghamton Bearcats

Offense: Unique winlessness
Bottom 10 judgment: "The Long And Winding Road." You know the drill, so let's not spill too much pixelated ink: After Towson's win last week, Binghamton became the only winless team in Division I hoops. That didn't change in the seven days after. This week, the Bearcats lost at Boston University 68-53, moving to 0-23 overall and 0-11 in America East play. You have to feel for the Bearcats, who are still reeling from the Kevin Broadus scandal and fallout, but you have to wonder how long the road back will be.

"The wild and windy night that the rain washed away/Has left a pool of tears, crying for the day/Why leave me standing here, let me know the way"

10. Arkansas Razorbacks

Offense: Travel sickness
Bottom 10 judgment: "I Am The Walrus." At home, Arkansas looks like an NCAA tournament team. On Jan. 21, the Razorbacks beat Michigan in Fayetteville. On Jan. 31, they repeated the feat, taking down Vanderbilt on its home floor. All of a sudden, Mike Anderson's young team looked downright bubble-worthy. Naturally, this week Arkansas went out and lost back-to-back games to LSU and Georgia. Why? Because both games were on the road. Arkansas is 16-8 this season. Seven of those eight losses -- and none of the victories -- have come on the road. For whatever reason (youth probably, but still), this team simply can't get a win away from Bud Walton. If this trend continues, Anderson's promising first season will end much worse than what might have been.

"I am the eggman, they are the eggmen/I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob"

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com.