Decade’s Best: College Rivalry

by Chris Deaton

This is the twice- or thrice-annual tussle between Goliaths separated by a street and a boulevard. This is something local gone national, not only because of the implications, not only because of the intensity, not only because of the prestige, but because of each and more. This is unique—this is the total-package rivalry that all others aren’t.

Kentucky-Louisville received a rocket boost in ’01 with the arrival of Rick Pitino, but the quality of play has remained grounded. Kansas-Missouri is heated but one-sided. Arizona and UCLA have split their last 22 meetings, but the series has been marred by blowouts and two rank years of Bruins basketball. Some adversaries share Carolina-Duke’s community flavor but lack greater consequence (Cincy-Xavier, the Philadelphia Big 5). Others are fiery but undeveloped (UK-Florida, Louisville-Marquette).

“But” is the buzzword of all comparisons between ‘Team X’ versus ‘Team Y’ and Heels versus Devils. “_____ has this, but not that. _____ has that, but not this.” Carolina-Duke has it all—it’s had it for the past ten years and will have it tomorrow.

2003-2006 saw a string of games with scores of 82-79, 63-75, 81-83, 65-70, 70-71, 75-73, 83-87 and 83-76. 12 of this decade’s 23 meetings have been waged with both in the top-15. During that span, each has been to multiple Final Fours (UNC 4, Devils 2) and won a national championship (2005 and 2009 for the Heels, 2001 for Duke).

This is a series defined by matchups: Roy versus K, Williams versus May, elbow versus face—and the list indubitably goes on. Absurd bets? Got ‘em for the young, got ‘em for the old. Juicy subplots? Only if you’re into Speedos.

College basketball’s definitive rivalry certainly warrants exhaustive description. But it doesn’t need it. The writing is in the box scores, the papers, the blogs, the bracket seeding, the hype and everything. It’s obvious. It’s simple. The decade’s best was Carolina-Duke.

Honorable mentions

Cincinnati-Xavier: Crosstown Shootout is D-I’s best “city championship”, with 10 points separating the last ten contests and X’s clutch play setting the decade’s tone (seven victories were by 2, 6, 2, 2, 5, 10 and 4)
Kansas-Texas: Once-a-year regular-season series notable for its breakneck pace reached a head with successive Big 12 title games in ’06, ’07 and ’08
Kentucky-Florida: Gators were Wildcats’ biggest foils of the 2000s, pushing UK to a near split (10 wins to Kentucky’s 12) and taking games late (9 of 22 decided by one possession)
Louisville-Marquette: Cards have won 11 of 19 in oscillating rivalry marked by their last-second heroics in ’03, ’05 and ’07
Syracuse-UConn: Big East powers have become well-acquainted in conference tournament, meeting six times during the decade with the Orange winners of five, including last year’s 6-OT thriller


For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.