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Top five nonconference rivalries


Dec. 22, 2003
There are so many great conference rivalries in college basketball. But what about great nonconference rivalries? There are plenty of those too, baby! Here's a look at my top five nonconference rivalries:

1. Kentucky-Louisville
When coaches Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith face off, everything stops. The state of Kentucky watches this with great passion. Half the fans are wearing blue, the other half are adorned in red. When they hook up, it's something special.

2. Missouri-Illinois
There have been so many great players and teams involved in this showdown. I really look forward to being there in person this time.

3. Kentucky-Indiana
These teams have such great tradition. There is tremendous intensity involved when they meet. I put it at No. 3 after the Wildcats beat the Hoosiers 80-41 on Saturday.

4. Xavier-Cincinnati
The Crosstown Shootout doesn't get as much publicity as it deserves. There have been some great clashes and surprises with No. 1 being sent away with Shock City losses in the past.

5. Marquette-Wisconsin
Coaches Tom Crean and Bo Ryan have helped elevate this rivalry with their great success in recent years. What an intense matchup, two outstanding defensive clubs that really go after it. The recent meeting lived up to its billing, with the Badgers pulling out a big W!

The Illinois-Missouri game will bring out plenty of fans enjoying an emotional battle between two highly regarded clubs.

I can't wait to get out to the Savvis Center in St. Louis, Mo., to see the Braggin' Rights game between Illinois and Missouri on Tuesday night (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET). More than 20,000 fans are expected and the place should be electric. As a broadcaster, I've never been part of a Missouri-Illinois showdown before, so I'm really excited to join play-by-play man Dan Shulman and courtside reporter Doris Burke for all the action.

The matchup between Illinois coach Bruce Weber and Missouri coach Quin Snyder should be interesting. Both coaches have been embroiled in controversy recently.

Bruce Weber and Quin Snyder have been embroiled in controversy recently.
Weber recently made a statement that his predecessor, Bill Self -- currently the coach at Kansas -- was dead as far as the Illini were concerned. Illinois fans had been critical after the Illini were beaten by double figures at the Jimmy V Classic (the Self-coached Illini did not lose by a double-figure margin all last season).

Weber wore a black outfit when he made the statement about Self, and it came back to haunt him. That was a no-no. Weber would probably tell you now that if he had thought about it, he wouldn't have done that. It turned out to be a PR disaster. You earn credibility by getting your players to perform with great intensity and emotion. You can't worry about the past, what the former coach did or what people are saying.

Snyder has seen his Missouri program deal with the Ricky Clemons situation. A junior-college transfer who was Missouri's point guard, Clemons was kicked off the team last summer after a judge decided he violated conditions of his sentence for two misdemeanors.

I may be naive, but based on how well I know Snyder, my gut feeling is that when this is all said and done, there will be no validity to Clemons' charges of cash payments. I also know the family of assistant coach Lane Odom, and I've met associate head coach Tony Harvey. Could there be a violation or two? Perhaps, but think about the NCAA rule book. When the investigation is done, I feel the Missouri staff will be cleared.

I can't wait for this rivalry. Sophomore point guard Dee Brown and his Fightin' Illini have battled on despite the injury to sophomore guard Deron Williams. Illinois faces a challenge against the Tigers, who have lost the last three series meetings and are out for revenge.

Seniors Arthur Johnson and Rickey Paulding want to get a W in this matchup. The additions of junior transfers Jason Conley and Randy Pulley are a positive for Missouri; Snyder now possesses a very deep team.

The problem is adjusting, getting everyone playing time and keeping the chemistry flowing. With new players getting playing time, others will be sitting on the pine more -- and that could create problems.

Missouri also must tighten up defensively. It's one thing to score 106 points against UNC-Greensboro, but you can't give up 98 points. Missouri also allowed 85 points against Oakland earlier this season.

Come postseason, you aren't going to beat the big-time teams unless you put forth a consistent defensive effort.

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