Top 10 college basketball rivalries of all time
College basketball is known for having some of the most enduring and intense rivalries in sports. We rank the 10 best college basketball rivalries of all time.
College basketball rivalries are some of the best and most intense rivalries in the sporting world. Whether it’s a high intensity matchup between some of college basketball's blue bloods, or close-quarters competitions between in-state rivals, the excitement for fans reaches its peak.
Narrowing the list down to only 10 rivalries was a daunting task, considering the numerous historic moments that have arisen from these matchups. These rivalries, spanning over a century for some and emerging more recently for others, are among the greatest in college basketball. However, one feature they all share is the promise of high-octane excitement whenever these teams take the court.
Ranking the 10 biggest college basketball rivalries of all time
- Cincinnati Bearcats vs Xavier Musketeers
The rivalry between the Cincinnati Bearcats and Xavier Musketeers is well-known as the “Crosstown shootout.” Only three miles separate the two Cincinnati schools, giving fans of this intracity rivalry one of the shortest road trips in all of sports.
Since the inaugural Crosstown Shootout in 1927, the two teams have faced each other more than 90 times. Notably, they have maintained their annual tradition of facing each other in every year since 1946.
Cincinnati leads the rivalry 51-39, but the Bearcats have not won since 2018, as Xavier currently boasts a four-game winning streak.
The most famous meeting, known as the “Crosstown Shootout Brawl,” came in 2011. Xavier won 76-53 that year, but a bench-clearing fight broke out during the matchup -- resulting in multi-game suspensions for four players from each team. Fallout from the brawl forced the game to be played on a neutral site for the next two seasons before returning to on-campus arenas in 2014.
- Kansas Jayhawks vs Kansas State Wildcats
The matchup between the Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State Wildcats is one of the longest-running and most-played college basketball rivalries. The two teams have faced off every year since 1906, making it the sixth most-played rivalry in the NCAA.
The basketball rivalry is just one part of the state’s annual “Sunflower Showdown” -- which sees the schools clash in multiple athletic events. Football, baseball and volleyball are among the other sports showcased.
During the 1950s, the two schools were both at the very top of the college basketball scene and regularly in contention for NCAA titles. The Jayhawks won the NCAA tournament in 1952, while the Wildcats won in both 1951 and 1958.
More recently, the Jayhawks have been one of the most dominant forces in college basketball -- winning the Big 12 Conference championship 16 times in the last 18 seasons, including a 14-year streak from 2005 to 2018.
Kansas holds the upper hand in the rivalry, including a 31-game winning streak between 1994 and 2005, but the Wildcats have always remained competitive, making for one of the most exciting college basketball rivalries between these two Big 12 teams.
- Ohio State Buckeyes vs Michigan Wolverines
The Buckeyes and Wolverines are fierce rivals on the hardcourt, just as on the football field. These two Big Ten teams have generated some of the best rivalry games in NCAA history, including wildly entertaining encounters in 1992, 2010 and 2013.
The 2010 matchup saw OSU and Michigan meet in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. It was an important game in the Wolverines’ bid for an NCAA tournament berth, and Michigan gained the lead with barely two seconds remaining in the second half.
After Michigan’s go-ahead basket, the Buckeyes’ Evan Turner started in motion before receiving the inbound pass, dribbled it over the half-court line, and sunk a three-point buzzer-beater from way downtown to claim victory. The last-second loss ended Michigan’s March Madness hopes. That moment is among the most memorable ever involving these two bitter foes, and it sparked a great decade for this rivalry throughout the 2010s.
The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is one of the greatest in all of college football, but it’s also one of the biggest in college basketball. These two schools and their respective communities love nothing more than beating each other in any sport.
- Villanova Wildcats vs Georgetown Hoyas
Two of college basketball's most successful programs also share an intense rivalry within the Big East -- one of the most competitive conferences in the NCAA.
The two played for the NCAA championship in 1985. That day, Villanova pulled off one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history by stunning a heavily-favored Hoyas team that included Patrick Ewing. Villanova’s upset remains one of the greatest stories in sports history, and the two talented teams have been rivals ever since.
Games between Georgetown and Villanova are always quite the spectacle. The matchups are highly anticipated and indicative of the fierce competition throughout the Big East Conference.
Villanova and Georgetown have won 18 conference championships between them, with Georgetown winning seven and Villanova claiming 11. They’ve met in the conference tournament final on multiple occasions, and both have won NCAA championships.
- New Mexico Lobos vs New Mexico State Aggies
The “Rio Grande Rivalry” involving these two New Mexico schools is one of the longest-running rivalries in college basketball history. It is also known as the “Battle of I-25” for the highway that connects the campuses in Albuquerque and Las Cruces.
The Lobos and the Aggies are their state’s only two Division I basketball teams, giving each year’s winner an advantage in their respective conference standings and the NCAA tournament rankings. This adds to the intensity of one of college basketball’s oldest rivalries, which dates back to the early 1900s.
The Rio Grande Rivalry game is a highlight of each year’s college basketball season. It’s always a key feature on the schedule and draws a huge crowd that enjoys its pregame rituals and traditions.
One of those traditions is the Lobos’ annual “Red Rally.” Known throughout college basketball, it’s a celebration that involves setting a life-sized figure of an Aggie on fire. New Mexico State students do the same with a Lobo, and the tradition contributes to the rivalry every season.
- UCLA Bruins vs Arizona Wildcats
The UCLA Bruins are one of the most successful college basketball programs of all time, having won 11 national championships and a record 23 Pac-12 titles. UCLA’s biggest rival is the University of Arizona, and the two have met more than 80 times since their inaugural matchup in 1923.
Arizona has also had plenty of success with its basketball program over the years, having won 16 Pac-12 titles and the 1997 national championship.
UCLA and Arizona squared off multiple times in the 1980s and early 1990s as two of the fiercest teams in what was then the Pac-10, but their rivalry made it to a whole new level in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Wildcats were a powerhouse playing for legendary head coach Lute Olsen, and it was under him that they started to draw even with UCLA. Olsen was 28-23 against the Bruins during his years at Arizona.
Between them, UCLA and Arizona have won 22 of their conference’s past 30 titles. It’s no wonder theirs is one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball.
- Syracuse Orange vs Georgetown Hoyas
Syracuse and Georgetown were both longtime members of the Big East before Syracuse jumped to the ACC, and their in-conference rivalry was at its very best between 1980 and 2013.
Both teams have produced all-time college basketball greats. Syracuse alumni include the likes of Rony Seikaly and Derrick Coleman, while Georgetown has featured Patrick Ewing, Allen Iverson and Alonzo Mourning.
The two schools were also led by Hall of Fame coaches in Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim and Georgetown's John Thompson Jr. In their prime, the two coaches were often each other’s main competition for Big East Conference championships and NCAA tournament success.
Syracuse and Georgetown have played some legendary games -- including the 1985 matchup in which Patrick Ewing scored 21 points with 17 rebounds to give the Hoyas a late lead that collapsed when Pearl Washington hit a jump shot in the dying moments to win it for Syracuse.
- Indiana Hoosiers vs Purdue Boilermakers
Annual in-state meetings of the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers continue the nation’s longest Division I college basketball rivalry, which dates all the way back to 1901.
The two universities both compete in the Big Ten Conference, and there have been many storied games between them over the past 122 years. The two met in the 1980 NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen round -- the only time the two universities have ever faced each other during March Madness. That year, freshman Isiah Thomas scored 30 points for Indiana, but Purdue came out on top on its way to the Final Four.
In 1985, during an IU-Purdue game, Hall of Fame Indiana coach Bob Knight expressed his outrage over what he perceived as a wrong call by throwing a plastic chair across the court in a fit of rage. The outburst resulted in three straight technical fouls, leading to his ejection from the game. Despite this, Knight's passionate display was lauded by the Indiana crowd. It was hardly the last emotional moment for Knight, who showed plenty of passion for beating Purdue during his almost 30-year tenure as the Hoosiers’ head coach.
The rivals have met many times and created many memorable moments, including the 2002 “Duel in the Dome,” and a 2005 double-overtime thriller.
- Kentucky Wildcats vs Louisville Cardinals
The rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville is easily one of college basketball’s best, and one could make a strong case for it being No. 1.
These two NCAA hoops rivals are constantly at the very top of college basketball in competing for national titles, and their matchups always come with a different level of intensity and competition.
Coaches John Calipari and Rick Pitino had a long-standing feud that dated back to the early 1990s, when Calipari mocked Pitino by impersonating him during a press conference. Calipari was then the coach at UMass and didn’t arrive in Kentucky until 2009.
Rick Pitino, who had previously been the head coach at Kentucky, served as Louisville’s head coach from 2001 to 2017. While these two led their respective teams, the rivalry was at its very best.
Both teams continue to be among the most successful programs in college basketball history, which only adds to the intensity of their in-state rivalry.
- Duke Blue Devils vs UNC Tar Heels
Duke and North Carolina are two of college basketball's most prestigious programs, and they’re situated less than 10 miles apart. This rivalry is one of the best of all time, with the teams having faced each other more than 250 times.
Duke and UNC both play in the Atlantic Coast Conference and have won 49 conference titles between them since the ACC was founded in 1953. Both teams have held their positions at the pinnacle of college basketball for a long stretch of time. Consequently, their matchups have become some of the nation’s most highly anticipated sporting events.
Known as “The Battle for Tobacco Road”, the rivalry has given us countless legendary games between these blue bloods of basketball. Duke-UNC matchups are physical, tough, gritty games that have often left players bloodied and bruised.
Duke has boasted some legendary college basketball players such as Grant Hill and Christian Laettner, who helped the Blue Devils to their first and second NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992. North Carolina’s alumni include Michael Jordan, who played one of his most memorable games against Duke in Chapel Hill. The 1984 game went into double overtime and is widely regarded as one of the greatest between the two rivals.
Speaking of double overtime, if you want to discover the passion and commitment to this rivalry, look no further than the Feb. 2, 1995, 2OT thriller that ended with UNC’s 102-100 victory.
Parameters for ranking
These top ten NCAA basketball rivalries have been ranked based on multiple factors. The longevity of the rivalry played a part in the decision, as well as the level of competition and the success of the two individual programs.
Close proximity between the schools is also a key factor that determines the intensity of a rivalry, with the New Mexico vs New Mexico State a perfect example.
Bet on NCAA Basketball Odds at Betway
Find season long NCAAB odds on the Betway sportsbook. You'll find all the latest spreads, totals, money lines and over/under. Missed tip off? No problem, Betway also offers live betting. All your NCAAB betting needs are covered at our online sportsbook.
Visit Betway’s NCAAB picks page for picks and predictions throughout the season.