The Best of ENEMIES

Everyone knows about Duke--North Carolina. But college hoops feuds can't get much more contentious than these burgeoning battles, fueled by poaching coaches, blue-chip recruits, buzzer-beaters and simple bad blood
November 19, 2007

GORDON'S WAR

ILLINOIS

HOW WE GOT HERE

A BATTLE for the allegiance of one teenager ignited a war between two bordering basketball nations. Eric Gordon, a 6'4" prodigy from Indianapolis's North Central High, was the first major recruit to commit to Illinois coach Bruce Weber following the Illini's Final Four run in 2005. But in March '06, Kelvin Sampson was hired in Bloomington, and he says the Gordon camp reached out to him—"We just reacted to [the family], really"—setting in motion a quiet courtship. On Oct. 13, 2006, Gordon announced he had changed his mind and would attend Indiana. Instantly, Illini and Hoosiers factions clashed on message boards. Gordon received threats, allegedly from Illinois fans, on his MySpace page. Security had to be beefed up at his games. Come Feb. 7, in what might be his only trip as a Hoosier to Champaign, Gordon will have to face the music. "I'm ready for it," he says, "but I have to treat it like just another good game on our schedule." If only it were that easy.

HEAT LEVEL

MOLTEN

TELLING NUMBER

4 Illinois-bred players on Indiana's roster, including three juco transfers.

COACH FACTOR

RELATIONS between Weber (left) and Sampson were probably forever strained after the Indiana coach made a couple of key additions to his staff. In May 2006 he added Jeff Meyer, the former coach of Gordon's father at Liberty University; three months later he brought in Travis Steele, Gordon's AAU coach in Indianapolis.

TALKING THE TALK

Asked to characterize the Indiana rivalry, Weber says, "It's a huge game. There'll be some extra electricity when we play each other this year. Hearts will beat faster, and our fans will be a little more vocal than usual."

INDIANA

WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 13 in Bloomington; Feb. 7 in Champaign

ENEMIES OF THE VOLUNTEER STATE

TENNESSEE

HOW WE GOT HERE

IN ROBERT GREENE'S The 48 Laws of Power, the author explains his sixth law (Court Attention at All Costs) by saying that it is "better to be slandered and attacked than ignored." This is gospel to Memphis's John Calipari and Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, a pair of program builders who combine coaching acumen with hucksterism. Says Pearl, "We like annoying each other enough to make this fun." The series was renewed in 2006 after a four-year hiatus; Tennessee had threatened to stop playing Memphis in football if the Tigers didn't schedule a hoops series. Since then they've split a pair of games while trading verbal jabs. Calipari said playing the Vols wasn't beneficial to the Tigers' "national schedule." Pearl said that "there isn't a program in the country that respects us less than Memphis." In truth the Vols get to raise their profile with Memphis prospects, and the Tigers, who play in a depleted Conference USA, get a late-season RPI boost.

HEAT LEVEL

BLISTERING

TELLING NUMBER
$350
Price scalpers are hoping to get for a ticket to February's Tennessee-Memphis showdown at FedEx Forum.

COACH FACTOR

SHORTLY AFTER taking over at Tennessee in 2005, Pearl (left) engaged Calipari in a pitched recruiting battle for Willie Kemp, a standout point guard from Bolivar, Tenn. His efforts ended up drawing the ire of Calipari, who claimed Pearl kept contacting Kemp even after the player publicly committed to the Tigers.

TALKING THE TALK

"We play Florida, not Central Florida [as Memphis does]. We play Ole Miss, not Southern Miss. But I can't beat [Calipari] in recruiting, and I can't beat him on TV [appearances]."
—Bruce Pearl

MEMPHIS

WHEN THEY MEET: Feb. 23 in Memphis

THE BATTLE OF THE BIRDS

MARQUETTE

HOW WE GOT HERE

THESE ARE not natural enemies. Marquette is a Jesuit school in a Midwestern brew town. Louisville is a state school in a Southern horse-racing mecca. They are joined by the Big East, but separated by the obsession of Louisville fans with Kentucky. Yet a series of classic finishes in this decade has given rise to a rivalry of the highest order. The latest chapter was written last Feb. 17, when Louisville's freshman guard Jerry Smith, who grew up near Milwaukee and was offered a scholarship by Marquette in the eighth grade, hit a game-winning, buzzer-beating three at the Bradley Center. It was "the stuff you dream about," says Smith, who tore off his jersey and raced the length of the court exulting. It was the third time in five years that the Cardinals had stunned Marquette on its turf: Francisco Garcia nailed a game-clinching three in Milwaukee in 2005, and Reece Gaines, a Madison, Wis., native, did the same in '03. The '04 game wasn't bad, either; the Golden Eagles' Dameon Mason won it on a free throw with less than a second left.

HEAT LEVEL

BLAZING

TELLING NUMBER
6
Wins for Crean in his first seven meetings with Pitino, who then took four of the next five.

COACH FACTOR

IN 2004 Marquette discovered Louisville's scouting report in the locker room, including a story doctored with a fake quote from coach Tom Crean (left) calling the Cardinals one of the league's "lesser teams." When Crean objected, Louisville's Rick Pitino said it was a joke he had no prior knowledge of.

TALKING THE TALK

"I don't think there's any denying that this is a rivalry. Rivalries aren't created by mutual hopes, they're created by what players do on the floor. Just look at how close our games have been."
—Tom Crean

LOUISVILLE

WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 17 in Louisville; Feb. 4 in Milwaukee

LONE STAR SHOWDOWN

TEXAS

HOW WE GOT HERE

IF TEXAS WERE ancient Greece, culture-rich Austin would be its Athens, while College Station, where Texas A&M was founded as an all-male military school, would be its Sparta. The cities' college hoops programs fit the analogy as well: The Longhorns adopted a free-flowing offense last season to better suit player of the year Kevin Durant and his sidekick D.J. Augustin, while the Aggies played defense with boot-camp intensity under former coach Billy Gillispie. A one-sided conflict for years—Texas leads the series, 128--80—A&M announced its revival as a worthy rival in one dramatic moment on March 1, 2006. Acie Law's buzzer-beating three-pointer, known simply as The Shot, toppled Texas in College Station and helped the Aggies earn their first NCAA tournament bid in 19 years. Law and Durant then waged two classic duels in 2007: At A&M, Law had 21 points and 15 assists in a victory; at Texas, Durant had 30 points and 16 boards to win in double overtime.

HEAT LEVEL

BROILING

TELLING NUMBER
1917
Year the Longhorns and the Aggies began playing each other in basketball.

COACH FACTOR

EVERY STARTER for both teams attended a Texas high school, and Texas coach Rick Barnes (left) duked it out with A&M for top recruit DeAndre Jordan. The 7-footer out of Houston landed in College Station—along with his AAU coach, Byron Smith, who's on new Aggies coach Mark Turgeon's staff.

TALKING THE TALK

"People say our rival is Oklahoma, but I think it's A&M. Coach showed us a video of Law putting the [Hook 'em Horns sign] down last year, which made me angry at them."
—D.J. Augustin

TEXAS A&M

WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 30 in College Station; Feb. 18 in Austin

BALLAD OF THE TWO BILLYS

KENTUCKY

HOW WE GOT HERE

LONG BEFORE Texas cowboy Billy Clyde Gillispie rode east from College Station to Bluegrass Country, Lexington was home to Billy the Kid. William J. Donovan Jr. arrived at Kentucky in 1989 as a 24-year-old graduate assistant under Rick Pitino and stayed on his staff through one Final Four run before being hired by Marshall in 1994. Thirteen years later, with the Wildcats stagnant and the grown-up Kid a repeat national champion at Florida, Kentucky made its pitch to get him back. Donovan flirted with making the move but declined, then dallied with the NBA before staying in Gainesville. Says Arkansas coach John Pelphrey, a former Wildcat, "You can point to one reason for the Kentucky-Florida rivalry: Billy Donovan. His desire to build something special at Florida was the key." Donovan's Gators have won the last six meetings, but Gillispie now has an added chip on his shoulder for motivation: Until he beats Florida, every time the two meet he'll be reminded that he wasn't Kentucky's first choice.

HEAT LEVEL

IGNITED

TELLING NUMBER
7 Consecutive years CBS has televised the final game of the season between the two teams.

COACH FACTOR

A MONTH after being hired in April, Gillispie (left) lost a recruiting duel with Donovan for four-star Houston point guard Jai Lucas—but then beat the Gators for a better prospect, five-star Huntington, W.Va., power forward Patrick Patterson. It was an early victory for Billy Clyde in his quest to restore order in the SEC.

TALKING THE TALK

"When I got [to Florida], I tried to sell every player we recruited on the fact that we could compete with the Wildcats: 'Come be a part of a program that can stand toe to toe with Kentucky.'"
—Billy Donovan

FLORIDA

WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 19 in Gainesville; March 9 in Lexington

L.A. STORY

USC

HOW WE GOT HERE

FIVE YEARS AGO, when the West Coast had never heard of Kevin Love and O.J. Mayo, UCLA-USC was an unremarkable rivalry with nothing more than metropolitan bragging rights at stake. Once a dynasty, the Bruins had deteriorated to a level below Arizona and Stanford in the Pac-10; the Trojans were, aside from one Elite Eight run in 2001, barely relevant basketball hobbyists at a school of football preprofessionals. Now, with Love at UCLA, which has gone to two straight Final Fours under Ben Howland, and Mayo at USC, no one laughed when Trojans coach Tim Floyd said, on the eve of this season, "Our goal is to make USC-UCLA the Duke--North Carolina in college basketball." Says Floyd, "I think people are going to stay up a little later to watch games and pay attention to what [Love and Mayo] are doing." UCLA guard Josh Shipp says,"We always hate SC, no matter who's playing," but with added star power comes a lot more heat.

HEAT LEVEL

PERCOLATING

TELLING NUMBER
10
Miles separating the two campuses, which sit on opposite ends of the Santa Monica Freeway.

COACH FACTOR

THE BRUINS play a bruising, blue-collar style under Howland (right), who brought Big East ball west from Pitt. Floyd, an NBA coaching alum, is attracting players who like the glitz of L.A., including Mayo and Percy Miller (a.k.a. Li'l Romeo), son of rap impresario Master P. Will it soon be a battle of ideologies as well?

TALKING THE TALK

"Our coaches ask, 'Do you want the national spotlight?' We're like a fighter who wants to get the heavyweight belt. We see [UCLA] as having that belt."
—Taj Gibson

UCLA

WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 19 at Pauley Pavilion; Feb. 17 at the Galen Center

REMEMBER THE TITANS?

GEORGETOWN

HOW WE GOT HERE

HOYAS SENIOR Patrick Ewing Jr., 23, is a tad old for a collegian, and yet the Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry predates both his birth and his famous father's arrival at Georgetown in 1981. In '80 the Hoyas beat the Orange in the final game ever played at Manley Field House, Syracuse's old gym, and Georgetown coach John Thompson Jr. rubbed salt in the wound when he proclaimed, "Manley Field House is officially closed." The war was on. Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim characterizes what ensued as a "harsh, tough rivalry with bad feelings on both sides." Following Papa Thompson's retirement in 1999, the Hoyas faded and Boeheim won his first national title, in 2003, but now the tide has turned again. The Orange missed the '07 NCAA tournament; the Hoyas went to the Final Four under Thompson's son John III. Now Syracuse is back with a stellar recruiting class headlined by Donte' Greene, a Baltimore forward who was also being recruited by Georgetown. It's on ... again.

HEAT LEVEL

REHEATED

TELLING NUMBER
57
Consecutive Syracuse wins at Manley before the Hoyas snapped the streak.

COACH FACTOR

AFTER BEATING Syracuse and Boeheim (right) for the first time on Feb. 25, 2006—a little more than a month after his team upset No. 1--ranked and previously undefeated Duke—John Thompson III said, "The Duke [win] was nice; this one is nicer."

TALKING THE TALK

"The Georgetown-Syracuse rivalry is something that is synonymous with the Big East. The specialness of that game was ingrained in me growing up."
—John Thompson III

SYRACUSE

WHEN THEY MEET: Jan. 21 in D.C.; Feb. 16 in Syracuse

PHOTOMARK COWAN/UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS DIA (JORDAN)JEFF JORDAN PHOTOFRANK WHITNEY/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE1) PHOTOBILL SMITH/WIREIMAGE.COM (WEBER) PHOTOMATTHEW EMMONS/US PRESSWIRE (SAMPSON) PHOTOPAUL B. RILEY/IU ATHLETICS (GORDON)ERIC GORDON PHOTODAVID E. KLUTHO (LOFTON)CHRIS LOFTON PHOTOLAURENCE DUTTON/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE2) PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (PEARL) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (CALIPARI) PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (KEMP)WILLIE KEMP PHOTODILIP VISHWANAT/SPORTING NEWS/ICON SMI (MASON)DAMEON MASON PHOTOSTOCKBYTE/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE3) PHOTOJOHN SOMMERS II/ICON SMI (CREAN) PHOTOMITCHELL LAYTON (PITINO) PHOTOJOE ROBBINS/US PRESSWIRE (SMITH)JERRY SMITH PHOTOROBERT BECK (AUGUSTIN)D.J. AUGUSTIN PHOTOSTEPHEN MALLON/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE4) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (BARNES) PHOTOJAMES LANG/US PRESSWIRE (TURGEON) PHOTOBILL FRAKES (LAW)ACIE LAW PHOTOMICHAEL WRIGHT/TEAMCOYLE (PATTERSON)PATRICK PATTERSON PHOTOGREGOR SCHUSTER/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE5) PHOTOLUCY NICHOLSON/REUTERS (GILLISPIE) PHOTOGREG NELSON (DONOVAN) PHOTOJIM BURGESS/UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA (LUCAS)JAI LUCAS PHOTOJOHN GREEN/CAL SPORT MEDIA (GIBSON)TAJ GIBSON PHOTOMATT CARR/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE6) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (FLOYD) PHOTOJOHN W. MCDONOUGH (HOWLAND) PHOTOSTREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGES (SHIPP)JOSH SHIPP PHOTOJIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (EWING)PATRICK EWING JR. PHOTOTOSHIO NAKAJIMA/GETTY IMAGES (FIRE7) PHOTOMITCHELL LAYTON (THOMPSON III) PHOTOJIM MCISAAC/GETTY IMAGES (BOEHEIM) PHOTOSYRACUSE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS (GREENE)DONTE' GREENE

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)