Duke-Maryland, Kentucky-Indiana lead 10 rivalry matchups we want to see
On Tuesday Georgetown and Syracuse announced a four-year home-and-home series beginning in 2015-16. In so doing, the former Big East foes reignited a rivalry 90 games long that had been put on pause thanks to the Orange's departure to the ACC after the 2012-13 season.
It was a commendable effort to schedule games that will have terrific history and meaning attached to them, and it certainly would benefit college basketball if other programs followed the example. Here are 10 other series we'd like to see, in order of priority -- rivalries either rekindled after a hiatus or established for the first time in an effort to infuse some excitement into college basketball's non-conference slate.
The Terrapins' departure for the Big Ten as of this July cuts off a rivalry that had been played every year but two since 1930. The so-called "Miracle Minute" comeback for Duke (see video below) in the 2001 meeting in College Park is arguably one of the ACC's greatest regular-season games, and was one of just four great matchups between the Blue Devils and Terrapins that season, including one at the Final Four. One can hope that the Big Ten-ACC Challenge will occasionally take care of this glaring empty space in college basketball...or the schools can come together and understand how there can never been too much of a good thing.
The series is perhaps not dead after 56 meetings, the last two of which took place during the 2011-12 season -- once during the regular season (capped by the amazing finish you can see below) and once in the NCAA tournament. But if no one has yet officially pulled the plug, there are only the faintest signs of life. In 2012, it was reported that Indiana wanted a four-year commitment with two games at neutral sites and Kentucky balked, wanting no more than a two-year deal thanks to other non-conference plans. Both programs have chock-full plates with various one-day events (Champions Classic for Kentucky, Crossroads Classic for Indiana) and their respective conference "challenge" series games. It's a shame, because few games would incite already passionate/unhinged fan bases like UK-IU, and John Calipari vs. Tom Crean would be a terrific sideshow itself.
After Shockers coach Gregg Marshall referred to Kansas as the "Chickenhawks" in 2011, tweaking them for not playing a nascent in-state power, one could imagine the Jayhawks refusing forever simply due to the insult. It's not like they need the game. But after Wichita State's Final Four run in 2013 and 35-0 start last season, it would be unbelievable theater and, maybe more importantly, really good basketball.
4. Kansas vs. Missouri
The Border War/Showdown dated to 1907 and included 267 meetings before the Tigers' move to the SEC put an end to it in 2012. "They're moving forward. That's their future. Their future is not looking back. Or hanging on to something that was," Kansas coach Bill Self said that year. "Their future is going forward. And you know what? So is ours. It's nothing negative. It's just business." Yeah, but it's too heated and too obvious a matchup not to revive at some point, especially given the two thrillers these teams produced in the rivalry's last season (a three-point comeback win for the Tigers in Columbia and an overtime triumph for the Jayhawks in Lawrence).
5. UCLA vs. Indiana
As mentioned earlier, the Hoosiers' various, annual non-conference commitments -- the Big Ten-ACC Challenge, the Crossroads Classic against either Notre Dame or Butler -- would make it difficult to add a cross-country rivalry. But two of college basketball's preeminent programs haven't met in the regular season since 1991, and one of the greatest Indiana players ever, Steve Alford, now paces the Bruins' sideline. It's a natural.
6. Kentucky vs. Memphis
These programs from neighboring states have met just once, that coming in the Maui Invitational in November 2006, when John Calipari's Tigers beat Tubby Smith's Wildcats. Calipari, of course, has moved onto Lexington, and a matchup against his former employer -- he led Memphis to the 2008 Final Four before it was vacated -- would be highly anticipated.
7. Connecticut vs. Syracuse
The Orange might be out of the market for renewing old Big East acquaintances after bringing back the Georgetown series. But anyone who remembers the six-overtime Big East tournament classic between the programs in 2009-- or any of their other legendary battles as conference foes -- can't help but want to see the teams reconnect after 72 previous encounters during Jim Boeheim's tenure in upstate New York.
8. Marquette vs. Notre Dame
Irish coach Mike Brey has said on multiple occasions that he wanted to schedule some of the Catholic schools that constitute the new Big East and that served as peers and rivals for his program when it was a part of that league. Milwaukee might not be the best place to start if the aim is to make appearances in fertile recruiting areas. But there's the colorful history with former coaches Al McGuire and Digger Phelps, new Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski and Brey are linked by their time at Duke (Brey was an assistant during two of Wojciechowski's seasons as a player, and games between the Golden Eagles and Fighting Irish were typically entertaining in the final years of the old Big East. The series was 118 games old when it was paused after the 2012-13 season due to Notre Dame's move to the ACC. It should get started again sooner than later.
9. Texas vs. Texas A&M
The elimination of the Longhorns-Aggies conflagrations on the basketball court didn't evoke the same outcry as the elimination of the football rivalry did when Texas A&M bolted for the SEC. But there were still 222 all-time meetings between these in-state rivals. Surely there's enough ire between the two fan bases to fuel interest in a renewal.
10. Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia The first meeting of the Backyard Brawl took place on Feb. 17, 1906. The last meeting was on Feb. 16, 2012, with 184 total games between the programs. Another casualty of conference realignment that would be all too easy to rectify. (Reports in 2013 indicated discussions were being held to renew the football rivalry, so there can't be that much animosity preventing it.) Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers might be relieved, actually, not to have to fly halfway across the country for a game the way they often do now as members of the Big 12.