Sports have long been a staple in society. There are certain elements to each that sets one sport, league or team apart from the rest. For the NCAA, one of those aspects that sets it apart is the rich, deep-rooted rivalries that have spanned for decades. Rivalries such as Alabama and Auburn in football, Duke and North Carolina in basketball and the gridiron end-of-the-year battle between Michigan and Ohio State all come to mind when thinking of some of the best rivalries in college sports.
But one of the most storied rivalries on the hardwood that is often forgotten when thinking of the best in college basketball is found in the banks of the Mississippi where the wood behind some of the most famous baseball bats in the country are carefully carved and constructed. This rivalry is none other than the Louisville Cardinals and Memphis Tigers, a hatred that began on January 6, 1949 when the Cardinals came away from Memorial Gym with a 72-53 victory to ignite a series that has now spanned 87 games, with Louisville owning the series lead at 53-34.
Over the years, the rivalry has seen some breathtaking moments. One game that comes to mind was the infamous 2005 C-USA Tournament championship game, where a young kid named Darius Washington had a chance with no time on the clock to knock down three free throws to capture the championship for the Tigers and send them to the NCAA Tournament. After sinking the first, Washington quickly learned what it was like to be the goat, missing the next two and falling to the floor in tears as the Cardinals won. This would be the last meeting between the two programs as conference foes at the time, as Louisville moved on to the Big East while the Tigers would stay put for seven more seasons.
Fast forward to 2011 when the teams renewed the rivalry after a six-year hiatus with the Cardinals besting the Tigers 95-87 in Louisville and 87-78 last December in the Bluff City. Now with Memphis joining the AAC, the Tigers and Cardinals will get one more season as conference foes to go head-to-head for bragging rights, as Louisville bids the Tigers a bon voyage again when they move to the ACC at the end of the academic calender year next June.
Though the teams will be reunited as conference opponents for just one season, the sparks are sure to fly as the Tigers will likely enter the 2013-14 season in the top 15 after bringing in a top-five recruiting class and returning C-USA Player of the Year Joe Jackson as well as several key players from last year’s team that finished 31-5. Louisville will also come in to next season with high expectations after capturing the team’s first national title in 27 years and returning the bulk of their core, including guard Russ Smith. The programs also have one of the best young coaches in Josh Pastner at Memphis and Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino at Louisville who has two rings at two different programs — the other at Kentucky in 1996.
Both teams not only have AAC title aspirations but hopes and dreams of lifting the national championship trophy, making this reunion that much sweeter. There is not much certainty in this world, but one thing is certain: any time these two programs step onto the court to face off it is sure to be memorable. One season may not seem like enough for the fans that savor this historic rivalry. Whether or not these programs will one day meet again regularly has yet to be determined, but this year’s home-and-home series between Memphis and Louisville will surely etch another historic chapter into this hate-hate relationship.