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Top 20 Intense College Basketball Rivalries

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Top 20 College Basketball Rivalries

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Bob Donnan-USA Today Sports

Rivalry games are what make sports so great. Without rivalry games, sports aren’t as intense, exciting, and played with such passion. In college basketball, that is brought to a whole new level.

There are so many schools separated by a short distance that just can’t stand each other. When those two schools step on the court to earn that state or that city’s bragging rights it creates a hard fought battle between two enemies.

Rivalry games aren’t made by the fights like the Xavier and Cincinnati brawl or when Tyler Hansbrough was elbowed in the nose. Rivalry games are made by the passion and intensity both teams show. With that passion and intensity, a fight may break out, but that is because the two teams care so much about winning the game, not that they want to turn it in to a boxing match.

A rivalry game does not always have to be in conference opponents, it can be two teams not from the same conference. The disadvantage of that is you only get to play one game a year. After watching the Kentucky-Louisville game this year and is past seasons, you can’t tell me you wouldn’t love to see those teams play twice a year.

Now games like Duke-North Carolina and Kansas-Missouri, you get to see those teams play twice, sometimes three times a season and it is played with the same passion and energy every single game.

You don’t need to be a prestigious team to have an enemy. Pennsylvania and Princeton go at it every year in the Ivy League. It is just as intense as other top of the line rivalries even though neither of those teams have much of a national history.

There is nothing more exciting than watching a college basketball rivalry on any day of the week and without further redo, here are the top 20 college basketball rivalries.

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20: North Carolina vs. North Carolina State

Mark Dolejs-USA Today Sports

North Carolina and North Carolina State, two iconic basketball schools. Two schools that absolutely hate each other and when they play it shows. This rivalry gets overlooked because of Carolina vs. Duke, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a top 20 rivalry in all of college basketball.

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19: Marquette vs. Wisconsin

Jeff Hanisch-USA Today Sports

Marquette and Wisconsin is the battle for the best team in the state of Wisconsin. Both teams can play with almost any team in the country most years and that creates a top of the line matchup when they battle it out. It isn’t a well known rivalry game, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great one.

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18: St Mary's vs. Gonzaga

James Snook-USA Today Sports

Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are two mid-majors who make a lot of noise every single season. These two teams are up there for the top team of the west coast every year. They battle it out for the West Coast Conference title and get to play twice a year, sometimes three times and each and every time you want to be watching this hard fought battle.

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17: Pennsylvania vs. Princeton

Eric Hartline-USA Today Sports

A classic Ivy League matchup. The battle of the smart kids is between Penn and Princeton. These two teams have one of the most intense and fierce rivalries that doesn’t get recognized because of the league they play in. These games are fun to watch and games you don’t want to miss.

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16: BYU vs. San Diego State

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA Today Sports

BYU and San Diego State are two west coast powerhouses. The rivalry between the two has been disappearing, but it was recently renewed when the two met on the football field in post season play. You know San Diego State is going to want some revenge when they get their chance on the hardwood.

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15: Memphis vs. Tennessee

Randy Sartin-USA Today Sports

Memphis and Tennessee is a classic showdown of the two best teams in the state of Tennessee. Memphis is a mid-major program that is always good while Tennessee is one of the better teams in the SEC. When these two meet up, make sure you are glued to your television because it is going to be a battle.

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14: Kansas vs. Kansas State

Denny Medley-USA Today Sports

Kansas and Kansas State are two great basketball programs. Two teams that battle it out to be the state of Kansas’ best team every year. Kansas may be one of the most historic college basketball programs because of James Naismith, but Kansas State doesn’t let the history effect them when the ball is tipped.

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13: New Mexico vs. New Mexico State

Frank Victores-USA Today Sports

The battle for New Mexico bragging rights occur when these two teams meet. You don’t hear much about basketball in New Mexico, but when you do it has to deal with these two teams. Both programs are good and they battle it out for being the state’s best team every single year in one of college basketball’s most intense matchups.

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12: Arizona vs. UCLA

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA Today Sports

Arizona and UCLA is a rivalry not really talked about because it is a PAC 12 showdown. It is still one of the best rivalries in college basketball and will continue to be as both teams have fantastic basketball programs. This rivalry is almost forgotten, but with both teams as good as they are and going to be in the future, it will rise right back up to the top.

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11: Ohio State vs. Michigan

Brian Spurlock-USA Today Sports

Ohio State and Michigan account for one of the greatest college football rivalries ever, but on the hardwood it isn’t the same. When two schools are rivals, it applies for all sports, the difference is, in football these two programs are two of the best when in basketball they are just starting to become top of the line programs. With that being said, the rivalry in the arena will continue to grow as the two programs continue to grow.

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10: Philadelphia 5

Barbara Johnston-USA Today Sports

The battle for Philadelphia consists of 5 different teams. Yes, 5 teams have D1 basketball programs in the city of Philadelphia and they all battle it out for the outright bragging rights. The University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Temple, La Salle, and Saint Joseph’s battle it out every year. Whenever two of these teams meet up, it is an intense filled basketball game.

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9: Michigan State vs. Michigan

Mike Carter-USA Today Sports

Rivalries between the two best teams in the state always implies for an intense game. With Michigan and Michigan State you get a hard fought battle every game. The Big 10 conference allows these two teams to play twice a year and that is just a perk for the fans.

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8: Kentucky vs. Florida

Crystal LoGiudice-USA Today Sports

Always atop the SEC are Kentucky and Florida. That is part of the reason why the two play such intense games and provide one of the best rivalries in all of college basketball. There is nothing like watching a Kentucky-Florida battle in conference play that most likely will determine the conference champion.

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7: Duke vs. Maryland

Rob Kinnan-USA Today Sports

Duke and Maryland isn’t quite the rivalry as Duke and North Carolina, but it sure is an intense matchup. Duke tries to play down the rivalry because of their hatred for North Carolina, but Maryland fans will refuse to lose to Duke. Always providing an intense game, these two teams fight it out twice a year in ACC play. Duke should like this rivalry better than their rivalry with UNC because they actually can beat Maryland.

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6: Indiana vs. Purdue

Brian Spurlock-USA Today Sports

Indiana and Purdue is arguably the greatest Big Ten Conference rivalry. The two schools share a state and battle for bragging rights as the best team in it, twice a year. The intensity brought in this rivalry is shown due to the passion of being the best basketball team in the state. Purdue leads the series 112-86 and look to continue that trend this year even though they will be entering as the underdog.

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5: Cincinnati vs. Xavier

Frank Victores-USA Today Sports

Cincinnati and Xavier is a matchup between “gangsters” and “thugs” according to the press conferences after last year’s brawl between the two arch rivals. These two teams meet once a year in what is known as the Cross-town Classic. The schools are separated by a total of 3 miles. If your in good shape, that’s walking distance. You can see why these two schools are such big rivals just by how close they are to each other. Cincinnati won the game this year and leads the all-time series 49-31.

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4: Syracuse vs. Georgetown

James Lang-USA Today Sports

The Big East Conference had its long run as the best conference in college basketball. With that comes its share of in-conference rivalries such as Syracuse and Georgetown. Like the other top rivalries, it is a matchup between two of the most historic programs in college basketball. There have been fights and upsets, but the rivalry may be coming to end because of the breaking of the Big East.

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3: Kansas vs. Missouri

John Rieger-USA Today Sports

The Border War is one of the greatest rivalries in college basketball. Kansas and Missouri make each and every game played a war on the court. Kansas has dominated the “Border” winning 172 of the 267 meetings. These two teams met twice every year in Big 12 play, but this year Missouri moved to the SEC and that can really affect this rivalry in the long run.

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2: Kentucky vs. Louisville

Jamie Rhodes-USA Today Sports

Kentucky and Louisville meet for the Battle of the Bluegrass. The two in-state foes have great programs which provide for great games every year. Sadly for the fans, the two teams only get to meet once a year because they are not in the same conference, but that doesn’t lessen the intensity of the rivalry. The two teams have met 45 times in history including an 80-77 victory for the Cardinals this year. Kentucky does lead the series 30-15 despite losing the battle this year.

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1: Duke vs. North Carolina

Bob Donnan-USA Today Sports

North Carolina vs. Duke might be one of the greatest rivalries in all sports, not just college basketball. It is a matchup between two schools separated by just 10 miles on U.S. Highway 15-501 (Tobacco Road). These two bring excitement, intensity, and talent every single time they meet. Two of college basketball’s most prestigious programs and the two biggest rivals in the sport. The Blue Devils and Tar Heels have met 234 times in history with Carolina leading the series 132-102.