These rivalries always get us excited come March Madness time.
March is the best month of the year if you’re a college basketball fan. After a hard-fought regular season, 68 teams are selected to advance to the NCAA Division 1 tournament where they battle it out to take home the National Championship. The tournament is nicknamed March Madness as the majority of the games are played this month. The final game of the tournament will take place on April 8th, but the tournament begins on Tuesday, March 19th.
There will be plenty of drama and spirited matchups this year. Dreams will be made, hearts will be broken, and brackets will be busted. The tournament is a spectacle to behold and part of it is because of all the great rivalries that have been birthed throughout the years.
With March Madness just a few days away, here are some of the best rivalries in college basketball. We can only dream that these teams play each other at some point in the tournament.
10. Indiana vs Kentucky
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This rivalry only comes in at ten on our list because it doesn’t appear like these teams will get to play each other anytime soon. Although, when they do play, it’s always a spirited matchup. These teams have played each other a total of 57 times, with Kentucky winning the series 32-25.
The last time these two teams played each other was back in 2012 at the March Madness tournament where Indiana came away with a 73-67 victory. Both teams used to play each other every year but Kentucky coach John Calipari put a stop to that because neither team can agree on a neutral site to play at.
Hopefully, the dispute gets resolved soon.
9. Syracuse vs Georgetown
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The Syracuse and Georgetown rivalry is a big one because there is no one these teams hate more than each other. Since 1930, the Hoyas and the Orange have played each other 94 times with Syracuse winning 51 games to Georgetown’s 43.
While the teams are still great rivals today, the height of the rivalry was in the 1980s when both teams were superpowers in the newly formed Big East conference. The Hoyas even won a National Title in 1984, while it took until 2003 for Syracuse to win theirs.
In 2013, Syracuse moved to the ACC which means the two teams don’t meet as frequently anymore, although they do still play at least once a year.
8. Michigan vs Ohio State
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Michigan and Ohio State are two teams that are rivals in pretty much every sport they play. While the rivalry is more famous for its football matchups, the basketball games have been pretty great too.
The two teams first played each other in 1949 with Ohio State taking the first game. Overall, the Wolverines and the Buckeyes have played each other 180 times, with Ohio State leading the series 108-72. While Michigan has only won 40% of the games, both teams each have one National Championship respectively. The Wolverines won theirs in 1989, while the Buckeyes won back in 1960.
This season, Michigan has had the upper hand, winning their only matchup 65-49. Meanwhile, the Wolverines are ranked 10th in the Nation with a record of 26-5. The Buckeyes are unranked with a record of 19-14.
7. Michigan vs Michigan State
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Michigan gets back-to-back entries on the list but for good reason. While their rivalry against Ohio State is undeniably great, it’s their matchups against Michigan State that are even more classic.
The Spartans and Wolverines have played each other a grand total of 189 times, with Michigan winning 93. Despite Michigan’s dominance, it’s been Michigan State who has had the upper hand as of late. The Spartans won both matchups between the two this season, including a game on March 9th to determine who would be the co-champions of the Big Ten conference. A final score of 75-62 gave Michigan State the win.
Every season we can expect at least two intense matchups between these two and they never seem to disappoint.
6. Georgetown vs Villanova
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This is one of those rivalries that can pretty much be pinpointed to one game in particular. These Big East rivals met each other in the 1985 National Championship in a game that has been hailed as the biggest upset in March Madness history.
The Hoyas came into the game as defending champions and were led by legendary New York Knicks player Patrick Ewing. Meanwhile, the Wildcats came into the game as the eighth seed with a 19-10 regular season record. In the end, Villanova pulled off the unthinkable and won the title game by a score of 66-64.
Since then, Villanova has been a dominant team in college basketball, winning National titles in 2016 and 2018. The Wildcats have won 11 of the last 12 matchups against Georgetown. Despite Villanova’s dominance, the rivalry remains great because of the 1985 final.
5. UCLA vs Arizona
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This rivalry is a fairly new one, it only really started to become popular in 1978 when Arizona joined the PAC 12. At the time, UCLA was a one-man show in the conference thanks to the fact that they had won 10 of the last 14 National Championships before that season. The two teams had played each other plenty of times before that though, with their first match coming in 1923.
In 101 matchups, UCLA leads the series 58-43. The Bruins also lead the Wildcats when it comes to postseason wins, leading that series 6-5.
Between 1978 and 2014, both teams combined for 24 of the PAC 12’s 36 conference titles making these two programs the premiere teams in west coast college basketball. What makes this rivalry interesting is that when both teams aren’t playing well, the PAC 12 is looked at as a weak conference with not much talent. The fate of the conference rests on these two teams’ shoulders.
4. Indiana vs Purdue
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Indiana and Purdue are two of the darlings of the Big Ten Conference and have a storied rivalry that dates all the way back to 1901. With both teams located in Indiana, the matchups have been both heated and plentiful. They’ve met a whopping 209 times, with the Boilermakers winning 120 games.
This lead is mostly due to the fact that Purdue won 51 of the first 62 matchups, although Indiana has been much better as of late. Case-in-point: Indiana has five National titles while Purdue has none.
For a real understanding of how incredible this rivalry is, you just need to look at this match from February 23rd, 1985. The Boilermakers won the game 72-63 but that was probably the least important thing about the game. This match was made famous because of Indiana head coach Bobby Knight’s infamous outburst at the referees which led him to throw a chair across the court.
The footage of Knight’s outburst remains iconic to this day and is always displayed on the jumbotron when both teams play each other.
3. Kansas vs Kansas State
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Dating back to 1907, the rivalry between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Kansas State Wildcats is one of the best in college basketball. Unlike many of the matchups on this list, which tend to be fairly even, there is one school that has a clear advantage. After 291 games, the Jayhawks lead the all-time series 197-94. This includes a 34-game win streak by the Jayhawks between 1994 and 2005.
Both teams have been dominant in the Big 12 conference over the last few years, although even when Kansas State has a better record, it’s Kansas that usually wins the head to head matchups. Heading into this season, the Jayhawks were on an eight-game winning streak against the Wildcats. On February 5th of this year, Kansas State broke the streak with a 74-67 victory.
The most important game of the rivalry was when both teams faced off in the Elite Eight of the March Madness tournament. It was the first and only time the two teams met in the NCAA Tournament, with the Jayhawks winning that game 71-58. Kansas went on to win the tournament that year, with the Wildcats feeling as though that could have been them.
2. Louisville vs Kentucky
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Many of the rivalries on this list were included because of how many times they play each other and how they are big rivals within the same conference. The Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats are incredible rivals for a different reason. Both teams are among the top programs in the country and are typically contenders to win the National Championship.
In 56 meetings, Kentucky leads the series 36-16, which includes four out of six meetings in the NCAA Tournament. Their first meeting in the tournament happened in 1951, with Kentucky winning that game 79-68. The next two tournament matchups would see Louisville come out on top, but the last three games have belonged to the Wildcats.
Perhaps the best example of the rivalry was displayed in 2012. Both teams faced off in the Final Four, which was the furthest into the tournament these squads had played each other. Kentucky was ranked first in the nation, while Louisville was 17th. The Wildcats got by with a 69-61 win and eventually won the tournament.
Kentucky is on a two-game winning streak in the rivalry.
1. UNC vs Duke
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This rivalry is number one on the list because it speaks for itself. Both teams are located in North Carolina and are just eight miles apart from one another. These teams have played each other a grand total of 250 times with UNC leading the series 139-111. The first time these two teams played each other was back in 1920, with the UNC Tar Heels winning 38-25.
Duke and North Carolina are consistently at the top of the ACC standings and are typically ranked in the top 25 heading into the March Madness tournament. UNC has won six national titles while Duke has won five, and because both teams are always contenders, their matchups become more intense because of it.
One game that perfectly highlights this rivalry is from February 2nd, 1995. At the time, Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski had been sidelined with a back injury and the Blue Devils were weak because of it. That day, the team hosted the Tar Heels who were second in the Nation. Despite being down 26-9 early, Duke clawed their way back and the game eventually went to double-overtime. UNC ultimately won 102-100, but the match just goes to show how great this rivalry is.
We can only hope these two teams meet up at some point in the tournament.