Nine of the past twenty NCAA men’s basketball titles. The two all-time winningest programs in men’s college basketball. The last undefeated season in men’s basketball. Twenty six total national championships.
The string of accomplishments listed above all belong to a group of six schools. The six schools make up the two most dominant “triangles” in men’s college basketball. North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State make up perhaps the most publicized triangle, all residing within the same state border. Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville make up one of the most heated trios of rivals, with a river and approximately 60 miles separating the schools. Outside of the UCLA run of titles, at various points in time depending on the decade, these six teams have been at the forefront of success in men’s college basketball. In fact, the 1960′s make up the only decade in which one of the six schools did not win at least one title.
Both triangles, though their success is undeniable, have some major differences. If you look at the two side-by-side though, which triangle of schools gets the nod?
The Case For North Carolina/Duke/NC State:
Location, location, location. The unique advantage for this trio of rivals is the fact that all 3 schools reside in the state of North Carolina. For 3 schools with such a rich history of success, to all share the same home state is unmatched.
Conference Ties. North Carolina, NC State and Duke all compete in the same conference, the ACC. The fact that the schools all get to compete with one another head-to-head each season, without a doubt, gives the trio an advantage. Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville do not play each other every season. There have been seasons when they have, but the teams have to agree on a non-conference match up, just once a season. And as we have learned this spring from the Indiana/Kentucky negotiations, the result can leave the schools without the opportunity to play on another at all.
National Attention. The national media has been all over Kentucky, especially in the last three seasons under Calipari. The national media even likes the Louisville/Kentucky rivalry quite a bit– playing up the Pitino/Calipari aspect as much as possible. But the national media loves the North Carolina/Duke rivalry. I would go as far as to say that the most attention given to any rivalry in college basketball is given to UNC/Duke.
Recent Success on the Biggest Stage. Kentucky has held up its end of the deal in the last twenty years, winning 3 national titles (1996, 1998 and 2012), but Indiana and Louisville (especially Indiana) have fallen short of reaching basketball’s ultimate prize recently. North Carolina and Duke on the other hand, have seemingly traded success back and forth throughout much of the 1990s and 2000s. North Carolina and Duke have combined for 7 national championships since 1990.
The Case For Kentucky/Louisville/Indiana:
The Stronger “Weakest Link.” The weakest link in this triangle of teams for the past ten years has been Indiana. The Hoosiers are just now finding their way back onto the scene as potential contenders following a dry spell started by Kelvin Sampson, that was slowly nursed back to life by Tom Crean. Kentucky and Louisville have had down years in the past 10-20 years as well, but in general the three schools have hovered around the Top 25 during most seasons. Notice I barely even mentioned NC State in my argument for the other triangle of schools above. NC State hasn’t been relevant in years. Finally the future is starting to look bright for the Wolfpack with a few strong recruiting classes in a row. NC State made it no further than the Sweet 16 during the Herb Sendek era (1996-2006), and performed even worse under the next head coach–Sidney Lowe (2006-2011). Under Lowe, the Wolfpack failed to reach the NCAA tournament.
In case you were wondering just how bad things were during the Sidney Lowe era, check out the Wikipedia page for NC State…
The Drama. The drama between Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville has reached a level of intensity it hasn’t seen since the Bobby Knight days. Rick Pitino and John Calipari have traded subtle and not so subtle shots back and forth during their time coaching across the state against one another. No matter how you slice it, the back and forth between Roy Williams and Coach K doesn’t hold a candle to that of Calipari and Pitino. Kentucky and Indiana took the debate and negotiations surrounding their attempts to play one another next season directly into the public eye. Neither school was willing to budge entirely in order to meet the requests of the other side. The passion and opinions on where to place the blame for the series ending has many fans on both sides stirred up. Not to mention the fact that Indiana was the only team to beat Kentucky in regular season play last season (Vandy in the SEC tourney), in dramatic fashion on a last second shot. And then, the two teams met again in the Sweet 16, in one of the most entertaining games of the entire tournament. As if all of the on the court drama last season between UK/IU wasn’t enough, Louisville and Kentucky met in the NCAA tournament for the first time since the “Dream Game” this past season as well.
Hansbrough/Plumlee Count: 0
Timing. Duke will be good next season. North Carolina will be good next season. NC State should be good next season. But Louisville, Indiana and Kentucky are being pegged as the top 3 teams in the nation heading into next season. I can’t remember the last time that all 3 schools from either “triangle” were billed to be the 3 best teams in the same season. Although pre-season polls mean very little, the excitement around the state of Kentucky and Indiana heading into next season is at an all-time high. All three sets of fans have reason to feel confident heading into the season.
Total Tites. When it comes right down to the most black and white of comparisons– the numbers– the Kentucky/Indiana/Louisville triangle has more national titles than that of North Carolina/Duke/NC State.
-Kentucky/Indiana/Louisville: 15 titles
-North Carolina/Duke/NC State: 11 titles
Three of the most basketball-obsessed states: Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina. Six teams. Two different triangles. Which one do you think has the overall edge over time? Which one do you think has the edge right now?
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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