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Top 8 Greatest Rivalries in College Basketball History

Publish Date: 05/11/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

College Basketball is famous for its rivalries, and today, we will take a look at some of the greatest College Basketball rivalries of all time.


How long has this been a rivalry? Are the teams normally nationally ranked? Are the teams geographically close to one another?

8) Kansas vs Kansas State

The Sunflower Showdown is an iconic rivalry that dates back to 1907. While Kansas holds an edge in the all-time series, both Wildcats and Jayhawks have had their chances recently; Kansas won 21 out of 31 from the early 1970s through the early ’80s alone! In 2008, Michael Beasley emerged as a freshman phenom who would go on to be selected No. 2 overall by NBA drafters; before their first meeting that year, he famously stated “We’re going to beat Kansas at home, in our house, in Africa; wherever we play we will defeat them!”

Video: Kansas-Kansas State Rivalry: History of Basketball's Sunflower Showdown | Stadium Rivals

Kansas-Kansas State Rivalry: History of Basketball’s Sunflower Showdown | Stadium Rivals

7) Georgetown vs Villanova

Every discussion of Big East rivalries must begin with the 1985 national championship game, widely considered one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. John Thompson-coached and Patrick Ewing-led Georgetown Hoyas entered that game as favorites, looking for their second straight national title. At the same time, No. 8 seed Villanova surprised many by even being there with only a 19-10 record.

Kentucky Wildcats players made 22 out of 28 shots for a 66-64 victory at Rupp Arena, still an outstanding Final Four record (there was no three-point line then). Their field goal percentage of 78.6% remains unbeaten today! Whenever Rollie played John fireworks were sure to follow, sure this rivalry is dead because the Georgetown program has been dead for awhile, but in their primes, it was a game to behold. That 1985 NCAA Championship games is considered one the greatest NCAA Basketball Championship games of all-time.

Video: HBO Documentaries: Perfect Upset: Villanova vs. Georgetown

HBO Documentaries: Perfect Upset: Villanova vs. Georgetown

6) UCONN vs Tennessee(Women’s Basketball)

Starting in 1995, UConn and Tennessee met seven times during 12 years in the NCAA tournament. Four of those meetings came in national championship games that UConn won; another two clashed in the Final Four, yet one more matchup in Elite Eight. Players such as Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Tamika Catchings, Diana Taurasi and Candace Parker all experienced this intense rivalry.

Video: A look at the UConn vs. Lady Vols rivalry

A look at the UConn vs. Lady Vols rivalry

5) Indiana vs Kentucky

Indiana and Kentucky may appear higher on this list with other schools. Still, no one can deny their fierce rivalry was one to remember when it existed (it even made Sports Illustrated’s 1993 cover!). The last regular season game stood out, as Christian Watford scored a buzzer-beating three for Indiana that sent shockwaves through Assembly Hall when Indiana claimed victory 73-72! This rivalry has seen classic battles like the 1975 Regional final clash, where UK ended IU’s dream of a perfect season. It looks like the series will be renewed in 2025, which is excellent for College basketball.

Rivalries like this are why March Madness became king during the spring.

Video: Indiana vs. Kentucky: Hoosiers take down Wildcats

Indiana vs. Kentucky: Hoosiers take down Wildcats

4) Cincinnati vs Xavier

The Crosstown Shootout may be college basketball’s fiercest rivalry, often producing heated exchanges between schools that share Cincinnati. Back in 2008, six technicals were called during Xavier’s win, and both Kenny Frease and Yancy Gates received one after Kenny Frease head-butted him; two years later, in 2011, during an epic Musketeer win involving Tu Holloway and Ge’Lawn Guyn’s argument led to benches-clearing brawling that was ignited by Dez Wells’ shove; after which Mick Cronin issued his postgame presser that “no excuse for any of it”. He added, “Guys need to grow up.”

That brawl led to an annual game being moved off-campus to U.S. Bank Arena for two seasons before returning to Cintas Center and Fifth Third Arena for regular play. The 2017 game saw some fireworks when Cronin had to be restrained after Xavier won; JP Macura from Xavier told him three times throughout the afternoon to “eff off.”

Video: [12.10.11] Xavier Vs Cincinnati Brawl & Postgame Comments

[12.10.11] Xavier Vs Cincinnati Brawl & Postgame Comments

3) Kentucky vs Louisville

Although Duke and UNC have only met once during March Madness, Kentucky and Louisville have met six times between 1951 and 2014. Kentucky’s Wildcats have prevailed in four of those games, none more crucially than at the 2012 Final Four, where Anthony Davis led Kentucky to an eight-point win before going on to defeat Kansas for a title win a year later; Louisville later capitulated and retired its nets. Maybe the most memorable showdown between these two teams was the 1983 Regional Final won by Louisville in overtime.

Video: The Rivalry: Kentucky vs Louisville

The Rivalry: Kentucky vs Louisville

2) Indiana vs Purdue

Indiana-Purdue basketball rivalry has long been one of the fiercest in-state rivalries, marked by numerous infamous incidents over its long history. These included Isiah Thomas’ controversial sucker punch on Roosevelt Barnes in 1981… resulting in Hoosiers coach Bob Knight inviting Purdue AD George King onto his TV show, only for him to decline and bring out a donkey wearing a Purdue hat as an alternate representative when King refused. Four years later, when the Boilermakers visited, an angry Knight got a technical foul for  throwing a chair; while leaving, Knight got a standing ovation and instantly created another flashpoint between these schools.

Video: Indiana-Purdue Rivalry: History of the Indiana Hardwood Battle | Stadium

Indiana-Purdue Rivalry: History of the Indiana Hardwood Battle | Stadium

1) Duke vs North Carolina

College basketball’s fiercest rivalry pits two schools just 20 minutes apart against each other. Since 1920, when UNC won 36-25 in Chapel Hill, it has continued ever since. Carolina dominated in the early days, winning 16 straight from 1921- 1928 before it settled more evenly since. The number of legendary players that have played in this rivalry is astounding, and to this day, this rivalry is still at a fever pitch. These teams have met almost one hundred times, with both teams ranked in the top 25.

Both of these programs are considered  two of the best basketball programs of all-time.

Video: Craziest Duke vs. UNC Rivalry Moments (Hoops)

Craziest Duke vs. UNC Rivalry Moments (Hoops)

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