Kentucky Wildcats-Louisville Cardinals is College Basketball's Best Rivalry

By Tim Letcher
Dennis Wierzbicki, USA TODAY SPORTS
Dennis Wierzbicki, USA TODAY SPORTS

When thinking of college basketball’s greatest rivalries, many immediately migrate to the Tobacco Road rivalry between the Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels. The two schools are separated by only a few miles, and they meet (at least) twice each season in ACC play.

Duke and Carolina have certainly played some memorable games, and that rivalry is one of the best in all of college basketball.

But it’s not the best.

When looking for the best rivalry, fans should look to the Bluegrass State and the rivalry between the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals. There are a number of reasons that make this rivalry the best.

First, these teams play only once annually, barring a meeting in the postseason, which will happen for the second time in three years on Friday night in Indianapolis. Meeting your hated, arch rival just once each season makes the game even bigger each year.

Second, these two schools have won the last two national championships, with Kentucky winning in 2012 and Louisville winning last year.

Then there are the coaches. Despite their public displays of admiration, there is definitely some animosity between Kentucky’s John Calipari and Louisville’s Rick Pitino. The two coaches were once close, but that’s certainly not the case now.

Also, add in that Pitino is the former coach at Kentucky. Imagine Roy Williams coaching Duke, or Mike Krzyzewski coaching Carolina. That would certainly provide a twist in that rivalry.

From a Louisville perspective, the Cardinals still look at Kentucky as the snobby school that would not play them regularly in basketball. In fact, the two teams went 24 years between 1959 and 1983 before meeting on the hardwood. That contest was called the “Dream Game,” and it was in the regional final of the NCAA tournament. Later in 1983, the Cats and Cards resumed their regular-season series, but only after Governor John Y. Brown intervened to help make the game happen.

All things considered, the hatred between the two schools, the history and the fact that they meet only once each year makes the Kentucky-Louisville matchup the best rivalry in college basketball.

Tim Letcher is a contributing writer for and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the United States Basketball Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.


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