Long live college hoops rivalries

Asked why his school elected to keep alive its old Big East ties by setting up nonconference games with St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim answered as only Jim Boeheim can:

"Who should we play? Illinois?" he said.

Sadly, plenty of schools would do just that.

That rivalries are dying amid conference realignment is not news, but the notion that they have to is plain wrong.

In Philadelphia, Rollie Massimino will always be vilified (unfairly and inaccurately, but why should that matter?) as the man who temporarily killed the Big 5, an act more heinous than using a stale roll on a cheesesteak. Villanova back then tried to make the same argument coaches make today -- that Big East commitments, in-season tournaments and the like made it impossible to keep every rivalry alive.

It wasn't true then; it's not true now.

Scheduling is complicated, no doubt, but coaches can make a choice. Even when Villanova played in the 16-team Big East, Jay Wright somehow managed to schedule four Big 5 games annually.

"We don't thank our rivals enough," Wright said after his Wildcats beat the Orange on Saturday. "Syracuse comes in and this place is rockin'. Now I don't like it when they've got the lead and they're chanting, 'Let's go Orange,' but it's an incredible atmosphere. ... This game is as important as a Big East game. It's about Northeast basketball and it's a great rivalry and I appreciate them keeping it alive."

Saturday will showcase the fiercest, most intense rivalry in college basketball when Louisville hosts Kentucky (sorry, Duke and North Carolina; you've become civilized by comparison), a game that did its own disappearing act for 24 years.

It's unimaginable that those two wouldn't play each other for perpetuity, but really nothing is sacred anymore.

Since rivalries are becoming like endangered species, maybe it's time we treat them that way.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature divides its species on the IUCN Red List into different categories. The same rules can be applied to hoops:

Least concern
Unless there are more conference shake-ups, these games should be -- and have to be -- safe forever:

Duke-North Carolina
Played continually since 1920.

Michigan-Michigan State
Played continually since 1909.

Played annually since 1903.

Gonzaga-Saint Mary's
Began in 1972; played annually since 1980.

Without the protection of a league tie-in, we are relying on the fickle goodwill of coaches and administrators:

First played in 1913; revived with NCAA tournament meeting in 1983; played continually since.

Began in 1917; played annually since 1958.

Extinct in the wild
Gone now, but we still have time to prevent these games from going to the full extinct list with a little diplomacy and a lot less selfishness:

First played: 1907. Last played: 2012. Reason for end: Tigers move to SEC and stubbornness.

First played: 1924. Last played: 2012. Reason for end: Stubbornness.

First played: 1923. Last played: 2014. Reason for end: Terps' move to Big Ten and stubbornness.

Pitt-West Virginia
First played: 1904. Last played: 2012. Reason for end: Mountaineers' move to Big 12 and stubbornness.

First played: 1925. Last played: 2014. Reason for end: Terps' move to Big Ten and stubbornness.

Once threatened, good sense and decency have prevailed, bringing these games new life:

Threat: The Orange's move to the ACC. Reintroduced in 2013.

Threat: The Orange's move to the ACC. To be reintroduced in 2015.

Threat: Brawl in 2011. Reintroduced in 2012, after being moved from campus arenas.

Threat: Josh Pastner publicly said he no longer wanted to play the game. Reintroduced: TBD. The two athletic directors said two years ago they would negotiate to keep the series going. It hasn't happened yet.


1. In his most recent memo, posted on the officials' website, NCAA supervisor of officials John Adams wrote what most everyone in college basketball is thinking (the bold and underline type is his doing):

"Very disappointing accuracy in calling block charge plays, especially at or near the basket. Simply put in order to draw a 'charge' on an airborne player, the defensive player must establish legal guarding position prior to the offensive player leaving the floor. If you are not sure he met this standard and a foul ensues, it is a blocking foul. ... I know this involves a change in mindset but you must determine if the defender was legal and judge the ensuing contact with that principle in mind and not how the crash looked."

That last part really has been the issue. At the Duke-UConn game, for example, every time a player turned and led with his shoulder or slightly jutted out his hip, it was automatically a charge -- regardless of where the defender was.

I caught up with Adams on Saturday to ask why he thinks things are so out of whack.

Simple answer: Coaches, once worried that their players would be cited for blocks, are now encouraging their players to take more charges.

Or what the rest of us might call flopping.

Why the change of heart? Last season, the NCAA tinkered with the definition of the block/charge call, asking officials to not only determine if a defensive player was set but also to make sure he was set before the offensive player started his upward motion with the ball.

Hence the coaches' hesitancy.

This season, the rules committee backpedaled, removing that last part. Now a defensive player needs to be set only when an offensive player leaves the floor.

Hence the flopping.

Adams acknowledged it's a real problem. Not only are the wrong calls being made, but he thinks they are contributing to a decrease in scoring. We're down about two points per game from February 2014, and Adams thinks that the charges -- where no free throws are awarded -- could be the culprit.

"All we care about is getting the call right, and right now, we're not," he said. "The underlying principle that the defensive player has to be set is not being followed. We're making calls based on how it looks."

2. The auction house that sold a pair of Converse sneakers Michael Jordan purportedly wore as a freshman at North Carolina is offering a refund for the $33,000 winning bid. A student manager insists at no time did the Heels wear light blue shoes that year.

Still, the initial sale got us to thinking. What other college hoops memorabilia might be worth a pretty penny?

Here's a few suggestions:

• The sneakers Christian Laettner wore when he stomped on the chest of Kentucky's Aminu Timberlake
• A rolled-up program once clutched by John Wooden
• The Emery envelope allegedly sent from Kentucky assistant Dwane Casey to the father of Chris Mills.
• The following pieces of clothing: Ray Mears' entire closet, an Al McGuire plaid jacket, a Pete Carril rumpled sweater, a Lou Carnesecca color-block sweater and Nolan Richardson's teal green suit.
• The plastic chair hurled by Bob Knight.
• A sweat-soaked towel used by John Thompson Jr.
• A saliva-soaked towel used by Jerry Tarkanian.
• A Milkbone, gnawed in angst by Butler Blue while watching Gordon Hayward's shot in the title game against Duke.
• An AFAM paper from North Carolina.


• If you're choosing sides for a game of H-O-R-S-E, avoid the entirety of the UCLA and Harvard rosters. The Bruins, owners of 11 national championship banners and a Sweet 16 berth as recently as eight months ago, scored seven points against Kentucky in the first half. Harvard, which opened the season in the Top 25 and just last season pulled off a first-round upset, one-upped UCLA with eight points in the first 20 minutes against Virginia. Combined -- combined -- the two teams shot 4-of-57 from the floor.

• Delaware still hasn't won a game, blowing an eight-point lead in the final 3:04 against Fairleigh Dickinson, but the troubles for the Blue Hens go deeper. Earlier this year, the university opted not to give coach Monte Ross a contract extension, even after the Blue Hens' 25-10, CAA championship and NCAA tournament season, completing a lengthy turnaround for the program. He lost his top four scorers from that team, so the struggles this season are no surprise. Odds are, though, administrators will use this season as an excuse not to retain Ross. Call it business, if you will, but from this view it seems like bad business.

• With Michigan State's inexplicable loss to Texas Southern continuing to add to the Big Ten's ignominy, it is now easier to list which teams in the league don't have bad losses -- Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State.

• Player of the week honors Incarnate Word's Denzel Livingston. Since last we saw the Cardinals, when they knocked off Nebraska, they have won two more to run their record to 8-1, including a triple-overtime win against UMKC. Livingston, who played all 55 minutes, scored 16 of his team-high 30 in the extra periods, despite playing with four fouls since the end of regulation. Three days earlier, the senior dropped 34 on Grand Canyon in a win.

• The race for 1,000 is on -- and Mike Krzyzewski isn't the only one running it. The Duke coach notched win No. 993 when the Blue Devils beat UConn on Thursday. Philadelphia University's Herb Magee matched him when the Rams beat Assumption on Sunday.