Top 5 Mid-Major Rivalries in College Basketball

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.

 

 

A Plea to Leave Politics Out of Basketball

By Kevin Sweeney

In college basketball, there is perhaps no greater experience than playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium, the home of the Duke Blue Devils. The legendary stadium, which houses the famous “Cameron Crazies”, the rowdiest fans in college basketball, is on the bucket list of virtually all fans and players of college basketball. 

Unfortunately, thanks to politics, the Albany Great Danes will be unable to play in this holy grail of basketball. The Danes, a consistent mid-major power that has reached 3 out of the past 4 NCAA Tournaments, will no longer be opening their season in Durham as had been previously reported.  This is not due to any sort of scheduling conflict or another basketball-related issue. Instead, what is preventing the Great Danes from a chance at an upset and a great experience for their fans, players, and coaches is politics. 

After North Carolina passed controversial House Bill 2, a bill that requires the people in North Carolina to use bathrooms based on their biological gender, in March, heavy criticism ensued. The NBA threatened to remove the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte, North Carolina if the bill wasn’t repealed. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order banning all non-essential state travel to North Carolina. 

While the University of Albany isn’t forced to follow these guidelines, it has chosen to follow the travel ban in this case, stopping the Great Danes from traveling to Duke. 

While this is certainly not the platform in which to discuss whether or not House Bill 2 should be repealed, nor whether or not Governor Cuomo should be involving his state in the affairs of other states, I do feel that it is necessary to stress that it is wrong for politics to stand in the way of the lifelong dreams of athletes. In my mind, this comes down to State of New York and the SUNY (State University of New York) system overstepping in order to make a statement issued that will probably go unheard. Duke will find another mid-major to open the season with. The casual Duke and Albany fan may never even know that this ever happened. 

Unfortunately, this is yet another example of politicians’ personal agendas getting in the way of the people. Until we can allow sports to become completely separate of politics, we will continue to see athletes miss valuable opportunities. One positive news cycle is not worth punishing hardworking athletes. 

3rd Year of TBT Brings Former College Stars Together

By Kevin Sweeney

For college basketball fans, the long wait from the end of March Madness until the new season begins in November can be almost impossible to sit through.  However, the next few weekends provide fans with a reprieve from the wait thanks to TBT (the Basketball Tournament), a 64 team, single elimination tournament pitting former college, NBA, international, and semi-pro stars against each other in a “March Madness” style atmosphere. This year, the stakes are even higher, with 2 million dollars going to the winning teams and its fans.  In just 3 years, TBT has gone from a little-known 500k tournament based only in Philadelphia to a 2 million dollar extravaganza with ESPN coverage and the backing of NBA and NFL superstars. The schedule for TBT is as follows:

West Regional (Los Angeles)- 7/9-7/10

South Regional (Charlotte)- 7/9-7/10

Midwest Regional (Chicago)- 7/16-7/17

Northeast Regional (Philadelphia)- 7/16-7/17

Super 16 (Philadelphia)- 7/21-7/23

Semifinals (New York City)- 7/30

Championship Game (New York City)- 8/2

You can purchase tickets to TBT here: https://thetournament.regfox.com/tickets

Here’s a breakdown of each regional:

West

The West Regional is anchored by top-seeded Team 23, who were runner-ups in last year’s tournament despite entering as the 13th seed.  They may not be the most star-studded team, but Team 23 has great chemistry and plenty of experience at TBT. One thing that Team 23 has is size, with 5 players at 6-8 or taller.  However, Few Good Men, a team made up of former Gonzaga standouts, may stand in the way.  With NCAA Tournament and NBA experience, expect the Gonzaga alumni to make a major run in The Tournament.  The feel-good story of the regional has to be Skinner’s Frate Train, a team with mostly Boston College alumni. However, this team is not looking to make money.  The team plans to donate their winnings to ALS research in honor of Pete Frates, the inspirational man behind the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Finally, don’t forget about second-seed LAUNFD, another veteran squad with plenty of NBA experience.  LAUNFD features former NBA star Cuttino Mobley and international star Pooh Jeter. They also have the backing of NBA player Trevor Ariza and comedian Michael Rapaport. Overall, expect a lot of good basketball in Los Angeles

South

The South Regional pits teams with plenty of TBT experience against former NBA and college stars who haven’t played in TBT.  My pick to win the tournament is Ram Nation.  Anchored by many of the players from VCU’s Cinderella run to the Final Four, as well as former Bucks center Larry Sanders, this Ram Nation team should be fun to watch.  They might even bring some of their patented “Havoc” defense to TBT.  TBT veterans Overseas Elite should also should be very competitive.  After winning TBT last season, Overseas Elite is back, with sharpshooter Travis Bader, former Texas star Myck Kabongo, and 2014 First Team All-Big 12 guard DeAndre Kane leading the way.  The top seed in this regional, Bluff City Blues, are made up of Memphis alumni, including guard Geron Johnson and high flying dunker D.J Stephens, who won the NBA D-League Dunk Contest this season.  One dark horse in this regional is Primetime Players.  The 9th-seeded Primetime Players lack big names, but are very familiar with one another, having won around 500 games together, according to their GM.  After a run to the Super 16 last year, another deep TBT run may be on the horizon for Primetime Players.

Midwest

The Midwest Regional is the deepest regional in TBT, with Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas State, and Marquette alumni each forming teams.  With these blue-blood powerhouses come lots of starpower and NBA experience.  While these teams will enter as favorites, there are a few teams that could certainly stand in the way and surprise people.  Former NBA superstars Mike Bibby and Jason Williams lead Pedro’s Posse, a team with boosters Chandler Parsons, Courtney Lee, and Austin Rivers.  While Pedro’s Posse has excellent guard play, its success in TBT will be determined by the play of its big men.  Another under-the-radar team is 8th-seeded 120 Sports.  120 Sports is made up of mostly former Northwestern players, but also features former Purdue star Robbie Hummel, who played in the NBA with the Timberwolves. 120 Sports also has former Creighton star Grant Gibbs, as well as Yale alum Justin Sears.  Another team to keep an eye on is the Illinois Hoopville Warriors, a group of players from the South Side of Chicago who made deep runs into TBT in each of the past 2 years.  Finally, Ants Alumni, alumni of the 2014 D-League Champion Fort Wayne Mad Ants, will look to build on a trip to the TBT semifinals last year.

Northeast

With no true favorite, the Northeast Regional is full of intrigue.  2nd-seeded Boeheim’s Army, led by Syracuse alumni CJ Fair, Brandon Triche, and Eric Devendorf will be a tough team to beat.  So will FOE, a team founded by the NBA’s Morris brothers that features Tyshawn Taylor, Maalik Wayns, and Klay Thompson’s brother Mychel.  However, I see this region as one with the most upsets.  10th-seeded 20th and Olney is made up of La Salle Alumni who reached the Sweet 16 in 2013.  6th seeded SuperNOVA has Villanova alumni Antonio Pena, Reggie Redding, and Scottie Reynolds, and should be as tough to beat as any team in this region.  Another upset pick of mine is the Liberty Ballers.  Making their 3rd appearance at TBT, the Liberty Ballers bring experience and talent to the table. With former NBA players John Salmons and Flip Murray, as well as former New Mexico center Alex Kirk and Siena stars Ronald Moore and OD Anosike, the Liberty Ballers look to build on their trip to the Super 17 last year.