The greatest rivalries in college basketball

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

December 19th, 2020

College basketball season is in full swing, and one of the sport’s most endearing qualities is the presence of rivalries between storied programs. No matter how frequently players pass through, the stories of one prestigious school battling another are ones sports fans pass down from generation to generation.

There are many terrific rivalries around the country, and we expect debate as we unveil our list of the top five. Here it is!

5. Philadelphia’s programs vs. each other

We’ll start off with an unconventional one. The “City of Brotherly Love” is home to no less than six Division I programs. Drexel, La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova mostly play in different leagues (only Atlantic 10 members La Salle and Saint Joseph’s share a conference affiliation), but their games are incredibly intense as the players vie for bragging rights.

Over the years, many of these games have taken place at the Palestra, a venue sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral of College Basketball.”

4. Indiana Hoosiers vs. Purdue Boilermakers

Record: Purdue leads, 122-89

Simply put, these two Big Ten programs do not like one another. The rivalry between the Hoosiers and the Boilermakers has produced a number of notorious moments, including a fight between Isiah Thomas and Roosevelt Barnes in 1981, and Bob Knight’s thrown chair in 1985.

Purdue has dominated this rivalry of late, losing just one of its last 11 matchups with its in-state rival dating back to February of 2014.

3. Syracuse Orange vs. Georgetown Hoyas

Record: Syracuse leads, 40-38

Many hard-fought games helped build the Big East into one of the NCAA’s most prominent basketball conferences, and over the years, no two Big East schools clashed more prominently than Syracuse and Georgetown.

Georgetown closed Syracuse’s beloved Manley Field House with a win over the then-Orangemen in 1980 to end a 57-game home winning streak, and the rivalry only escalated from there. Punches were thrown, legendary coaches launched into tirades in front of their benches, and the two top-level squads took turns beating each other.

Syracuse left the Big East for the ACC in 2011, but the Orange and Hoyas still play each other once a year.

2. Louisville Cardinals vs. Kentucky Wildcats

Record: Kentucky leads, 37-16

Kentucky doesn’t have pro sports teams, and its residents are very passionate about college athletics. The two most prominent programs in the Blue Grass State have each risen to national prominence, and they’ve butted heads many times along the way.

The Wildcats have taken control of the rivalry in recent years, and have lost to the Cardinals just twice in the last 13 games between the two teams since the start of the 2009-10 season.

1. Duke Blue Devils vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

Record: North Carolina leads, 139-114

There’s no other place to go for the top spot on our list than the battle between two schools on college basketball’s famed Tobacco Road.

Between the iconic coaches (Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Dean Smith and later Roy Williams at North Carolina) and players (the likes of Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Michael Jordan, and Tyler Hansbrough), the status of both programs, and the implications of their matchups (ones that have been remarkably evenly-matched throughout the years), every other college basketball rivalry falls short when compared to this one.