By Kevin Sweeney
In college sports, fans love rivalry games. No matter how the season is going for the 2 teams, a rivalry game causes the fans of both teams to only focus on one thing: beating their nemesis. While much of the fanfare of college basketball rivalries goes to blue-blood showdowns like Duke vs North Carolina, Kentucky vs Louisville, and Syracuse vs Villanova, mid-major rivalries get just as intense, and oftentimes have more on the line. With that said, here’s a look at some of the best mid-major rivalries in college basketball.
1. Iona vs Manhattan- This MAAC rivalry has long been one of the best in all of college basketball. The two programs, located just over 10 miles apart, have been playing against each other since 1946. However, the success of the two programs over the past few years has brought this rivalry onto the national stage. The game is now usually televised on ESPN, and has gained the attention of the biggest names in the college basketball industry. The rivalry has gotten so big, even Marlins Man decided to make an appearance:
2. Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s- The rivalry between these 2 schools has formed mostly due to the fact that the winner usually wins the WCC. Either Gonzaga or Saint Mary’s has won the regular season WCC championship in each of the past 16 seasons. As a result, the tension between the programs has increased, and the matchups are circled on the calendar as soon as the schedule comes out. The tension may rise even more this season, as both teams will be among the best in college basketball once again.
3. Cincinnati vs Xavier- While the success of both programs has pulled them out of mid-major status, the rivalry still has that blue collar, mid-major feel. To say that these teams don’t like one another is an understatement. The massive brawl in 2011 was reminiscent of brawls in pro rivalries like the Red Sox and Yankees or the Pacers and Pistons. And while brawls undermine the mutual respect that the teams have for one another, they certainly demonstrate just how much this rivalry means to the players and fans of both teams.
4. Penn vs Princeton- Penn vs Princeton is a rivalry that formed due to their former dominance of the Ivy League. From 1989 to 2007, Penn or Princeton won the Ivy League every season. While Penn has struggled lately, the Penn-Princeton still has a whole lot of meaning to the fans of both teams, with Penn nearly knocking off the Tigers twice last season despite a significant talent gap between the teams.
5. Belmont vs Lipscomb- The “Battle of the Boulevard” is one of the most unique rivalries in college basketball. The 2 schools, separated by just 3 miles, are actually located on the same street: Belmont Boulevard. And while Belmont no longer plays in the same conference as Lipscomb, having moved to the Ohio Valley conference, the rivalry has certainly not died. The teams still face off twice a year. Lipscomb leads the series 73-65, but Belmont has won the last 9 matchups.