What Makes a College Basketball Rivalry Great?


Tonight is the last matchup of this year’s Duke/North Carolina rivalry, yes this a NBA blog and more importantly a Raptors blog, but hey I will be watching this tonight. Pretty much everyone else, NBA or college fan, will be watching to because this is game is a must see game year after year. Which brings up the question, what makes a basketball rivalry great?

Duke and North Carolina obviously have most of the major elements and as a result their games are national events and the rivalry’s stories are of legend. Some teams have great games for a certain period of time, but it takes a lot to be a rivalry people care about year after year.

Here are five basic elements of a great college basketball rivalry

5. Distance

If two teams are in the same state—or even better the same area—it makes for a much better rivalry. This is a given, but the fan bases of both teams should have to hear it when their team loses a game and the winners should get to have bragging rights in the area for the year.

It doesn’t have to be a Duke/UNC distance or even in state, but rivalries are bred on familiarity.

4. Competitiveness

A rivalry must be competitive or it is just sad to see.

A team can dominate a rivalry for a long period of time if the games are close, but there is a reason why DePaul has no real Big East Rivals, because they don’t play anyone close enough to make it entertaining.

There is the case of the underdog team having a rivalry based on trying to take down the bigger school every year, but those are few and far between. Rivalries should have periods of dominance, but they also need to be back and forth. One team beating on their rival gets sad and well, boring after awhile if two teams always have an unpredictable game. It makes that rivalry special.

3. Can’t be a football rivalry

Basketball rivalries just can’t be carried over from football rivalries, and vice versa. It usually doesn’t work.

This is because there are few schools that are dominant in both sports, taking some edge out of one of the rivalries. The Big East does a great job of having intense two sport rivalries with Pitt/West Virginia and Kentucky/Louisville, but those are the exceptions to the rule.

2. Hated Players

Every rivalry must have hated players.

It just is a must.

Would Duke-UNC have became as big as it has without hated players from both sides? Every rivalry has to have a player that the opposing fans cannot stand, and will boo that player until their voices give out.

The Wojo’s, the Bobby Hurley’s, the Greg Paulus’, the Psycho T’s of the world put games to another level as the fans have yet another reason to hate the opposing team.

Hate is what rivalries run on.

The players that can earn that kind of hate go down in college basketball lore as the truly memorable.

1. History

Rivalries need history and games that give stories to pass down from generation to generation. Its what separates a rivalry from a conference game: those stories give fans bragging rights and makes the game special whenever those two familiar teams clash. Its what makes fans scream and hell, hoping that their team doesn’t give their rivals a moment to talk about forever.

It adds that urgency.

Duke and North Carolina has been the best rivalry in college basketball for 20 years and it’s because of those five things being involved in it in such big ways; a great college rivalry is a perfect combination of those five things.

Enjoy tonight’s game.