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Five underappreciated college hoops rivalries

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On Saturday afternoon, the final installment of Syracuse and Georgetown’s Big East rivalry will come to a fitting close: final day of the regular season played in front of a packed house on ESPN’s Gameday with a conference title on the line.

This isn’t the first great rivalry to get crushed during the Expansionocalypse Paper Chase. West Virginia and Pitt won’t be having anymore Backyard Brawls. Kansas and Missouri have seen their Border War come to an unfortunate truce. Even football has seen one of their longest-standing rivalries fade into darkness, which is why you won’t ever see Johnny Football running roughshod in Austin.

But that doesn’t mean all the great rivalries are dead. Duke and North Carolina play on Saturday as well, and I’m not sure that rivalry can compare with the bitterness that exists between Kentucky and Louisville. The ferocity of the Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier was headline news when they exchanged punches last season. And now that Michigan is good again, the rivalry between the Wolverines and Tom Izzo’s Spartans is thriving.

Here are five more rivalries (plus five extra, since we love ya!) that are must-see TV:

The Sunflower Showdown: Now that Missouri is in the SEC and Kansas State is good at basketball, we must all hope that the attention of the Jayhawk fan base gets turned onto the Wildcats. There’s nothing better than a fierce, in-state rivalry between two powerhouse programs — they are currently tied for the Big 12 lead — that happen to reside in the same conference, and that’s precisely what we have here. Throw in the fact that these are two of the best home court environments in the country and you have everything you need in a rivalry.

The Black & Blue Classic: The battle for the city of Richmond is your classic beef between a large, public school (VCU) and a small, private school (Richmond). This quote from former Ram guard Brandon Rozzell when both teams made the 2011 Sweet 16 sums it up just right:

“We consider ourselves the real Richmond school,” Rozzell said. “We’re in the middle of the city and the heart and soul of everything. They’re more of an elite school, nice campus and all. I like to be where everything is at, not out in the middle of the woods and covered by trees.”

They play twice-a-year as members of the Atlantic 10.

The I-94 Rivalry: Over the last decade or so, in-state rivals Wisconsin and Marquette have seen their feud get ratcheted up a couple of notches. It helps that Bo Ryan and Tom Crean/Buzz Williams have built the two programs into perennial contenders built more-or-less on the same premise: talent development over three or four years, hard work and effort. Recent recruiting battles (looking at you, Vander Blue) have helped fuel the fire as well.

Gonzaga and St. Mary’s: If there was ever a rivalry that needed an awesome nickname*, this is it. The two best programs in the WCC, the Zags and the Gaels have spent the better part of the last decade competing for conference superiority. St. Mary’s finally claimed it last season, but that may be gone now that Gonzaga has climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the country.

Utah, Utah State and BYU: Outside of Indiana and Kentucky, there isn’t a more hoops-mad state in the country that Utah. These are the three biggest programs in the state, and while none of them happen to reside in the same conference anymore — USU will be heading to the Mountain West next season, which Utah and BYU both left in recent years — that doesn’t change the spite that’s felt between the two programs. These rivalries have been played more than 200 times and, with the exception of a couple of recent ugly seasons from the Utes, draw sellout crowds that are rowdy and loud.

Five more worth tuning in for:

  • Indiana and Purdue: It feels weird putting the two biggest schools in Indiana on this list, but it probably belongs. The Indiana-Kentucky rivalry is the one that makes headlines. The Indiana-Butler rivalry is the one gaining traction thanks to Brad Stevens. It’s been a while since both schools were relevant at the same time, but when they are, this is fierce.
  • The Big 5: I shouldn’t have to explain the Big 5, but I will. St. Joe’s, Villanova, Penn, La Salle and Temple — five schools located in Philly — play a round-robin every year. The folks in Philly care a lot. Seeing a Holy War (St. Joe’s vs. Villanova) should be on every hoop fan’s bucket list.
  • The Battle of the Boulevard: Lipscomb and Belmont. No longer league rivals, but that doesn’t take away from the spirit of this rivalry, which once drew 16,000 people to a tournament game when both were NAIA schools in the early ’90s.
  • Rio Grande Rivalry: Featuring New Mexico and New Mexico State, this rivalry is unique in that it’s a non-conference matchup, but the Lobos and the Aggies play twice a year.
  • Penn and Princeton: The two most storied programs in the Ivy League. Harvard may headline the conference these days, but even in a down year, this game is intense.

What do you think is the best rivalry in the country that doesn’t get enough attention?

*(Now accepting applications for nicknames for the Gonzaga-St. Mary’s rivalry. Leave ’em in the comments. The winner gets endless props from me.)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Nigel Hayes’ comment on basketball brands hits on greater point

Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes (10) drives on Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. Hayes had a team-high 21 points in Wisconsin's 79-68 win. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
AP Photo/Andy Manis
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Much is made about the ball when it comes to how the sport of basketball is played and rightfully so, as the ball is the most important piece of equipment. Different brands have different characteristics, and with college basketball programs being able to pick the ball they use for home games there are adjustments to be made during the season.

Wisconsin will play at No. 2 Maryland Saturday, meaning that in the days leading up to the game the Badgers needed to get used to the Under Armour basketball. The brand became a conversation point in the aftermath of Maryland’s win over No. 4 Iowa last month, with the Hawkeyes (while not blaming the ball for their loss) made note of the differences between the Under Armour ball and the Nike ball they use for their home games.

Thursday Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes offered up his observations on the basketball while also pointing out (albeit sarcastically) the goal of intercollegiate athletics.

“It’s definitely different,” Hayes said. “Personally, we don’t like it too much. I don’t like the Under Armour ball whatsoever. But that’s the way this amateur sports league is set up. We’re supposed to be having fun, but all the money is in these basketballs that colleges play with. But it’s an amateur sport, we’re just here for fun. It’s not really that serious. So I guess any ball should be OK.

“Maybe we should have a universal ball like the NBA. You don’t go to the Clippers’ stadium and play with a Nike and then go to Golden State and play with a Rawlings. But in this amateur sport of college, where money isn’t the goal — it’s the student education and experience that you get — we play with a million different basketballs.”

Hayes makes a good point here, and in regards to the NBA all hell would break loose under similar circumstances (remember the leather vs. microfiber composite controversy in 2006?). If these games are solely about fun and the college experience, wouldn’t having one ball used by all schools better fit that mission? This isn’t the biggest of deals when it comes to “amateur” athletics, as different basketball brands have been used for years.

But Hayes was able to take this situation and work it into the discussion of the goals of intercollegiate athletics. Is it about the experience? Or does the ability to profit, be it through a minor move such as using a particular ball or the more impactful step of moving from one conference to another, take precedence? Given the shifts that have occurred in college sports in recent years, it’s quite apparent that the search for additional revenue streams has won out.

Hayes did note that neither he nor his teammates would make excuses, saying that the team would simple “have to get used to” the unfamiliar basketball according to the Wisconsin State Journal. In the end, this was a good use of sarcasm by Hayes to make a greater point about the collegiate athletics machine he and his teammates are but minor parts of.

Marquette fan sends Providence money for missed free throw

Providence's Kris Dunn reacts to his shot during the first half of an NCAA basketball game against Villanova, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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It goes without saying that sports can inspire some interesting promises, from players and coaches guaranteeing victory to fans making statements that hinge on the outcome of a particular game or play (see: tattoos celebrating a team’s triumphs before they’ve even won the game in question). For one Marquette fan, the need for Providence’s Kris Dunn to miss a free throw during Wednesday night’s game (which Marquette won in overtime) inspired him to make a promise that he intended to keep.

Jamey Schilling took the approach of yelling that he’d pay Dunn $10 if he missed the free throw. Sure enough Dunn missed the shot, and Schilling made good on his promise. But with players themselves unable to receive such funds due to NCAA rules, Schilling sent the check to the Providence athletic department.

Schilling’s gesture did not go unnoticed by Marquette either, as the school sent him a gift card to use in the Marquette Spirit Shop.

H/T For The Win