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The greatest rivalries in March Madness history

Profile Picture: Andrew Champagne

March 4th, 2021

March Madness is just plain special. It’s a college basketball smorgasbord, with blue-bloods locking horns with upstart programs and millions of people filling out brackets to follow along with the action.

While the dynamics of the field of 68 change every year, though, it certainly seems like a few rivalries have a habit of taking center stage in the postseason. Ahead of this year’s tournament, we’ve highlighted five that stand out, including several that may be renewed with vigor this March!

5. Kansas vs. North Carolina

This one should get more attention than it does. In addition to former Kansas coach Roy Williams leaving for Chapel Hill in 2003, the Jayhawks and Tar Heels have met in the Big Dance on six occasions. Kansas has won four of them, including the last three meetings in 2008, 2012, and 2013. North Carolina, however, topped a Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas team to win the 1957 national title in a triple-overtime thriller.

4. Michigan vs. Ohio State

Perhaps it’s not as heated as the gridiron rivalry between the two schools, but their basketball teams have engaged in some pitched battles over the years. Ohio State leads the overall series 99-73, but the Wolverines have their share of big wins over the Buckeyes, including a 75-71 thriller in the 1992 NCAA Tournament during the days of the Fab Five.

This year could be fascinating, as both teams have made bids for top seeds in the 2021 bracket. It’s entirely possible the Big Ten stalwarts could clash late in the tournament, and if that happens, it will be must-see TV for many reasons!

3. UCLA vs. Arizona

The early days of this rivalry were dominated by the Bruins, who won 22 of their first 25 meetings with the Wildcats through the 1983-84 season. That stretch includes an 82-66 decision that sent UCLA to the 1976 Final Four.

Arizona, however, has battled back to whittle down the all-time series deficit to 61-44. While they haven’t met in the NCAA Tournament since that 1976 encounter, the two teams clashed in the Pac-12 Tournament seven times between 2010 and 2018, with the Wildcats winning four of those contests.

2. Georgetown vs. Villanova

How even is this rivalry born in the old Big East? The Hoyas and the Wildcats have played 80 games, and the series is deadlocked at 40 wins apiece.

If you’re a Georgetown fan, look away now (if you haven’t already).

The most notable meeting between these two teams came in the championship game of the 1985 tournament. The Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas were huge nine-point favorites to win it all for a second straight year, but the Wildcats played a near-perfect game to spring a 66-64 upset.

1. Kentucky vs. Louisville

No pro teams play in Kentucky, so tempers run hot when these two blue-bloods take the court. By the numbers, the Wildcats have the upper hand in the rivalry, owning a 37-17 advantage over the Cardinals.

The two squads have played each other in the NCAA Tournament six times. Kentucky has won four of those games, including a 69-61 victory in the 2012 Final Four. The Wildcats would go on to beat Kansas in the championship game two days later.