Virginia is just the worst. If any UVA fans are reading this, calm down, I’m not trying to knock the program. They’ve been one of the most consistent teams in the country over the past few years, I genuinely like Tony Bennett as a coach, and I’m sure a run to the Final Four, and possibly further, is coming soon for them. But on a personal level, as a Louisville fan, they’re the worst.
Ever since Louisville joined the ACC in 2014, the conference has been shoving Virginia in our faces, telling us they’re our most heated rivals now. You see, every team has a cross-division rival in football that they play every year and also play twice in basketball every year. And Maryland, the school Louisville replaced, had formerly been tied to Virginia. So here we are. You may have expected them to take advantage of the simmering tension over the past decade in football with Miami, or capitalize on the former Big East matchup and tie us to Pittsburgh. Maybe they could even choose to look towards basketball and push our already established rivalry with Syracuse, as a sort of companion to UNC-Duke for the conference. But nah. The easiest choice was to just stick us with Virginia, and try and convince us we care about them. But I don’t. They won’t fool me.
Since then, the football game has routinely been much closer than it should have been, including an upset for Virginia in 2014, and a last second, game winning touchdown for the Cards this season. And the basketball games, for the most part, haven’t been close. I mean, sometimes they are, but even then they don’t feel all that close. Despite the team’s almost always coming in on even playing fields, if you just watched Louisville-Virginia games, you’d probably come away thinking Louisville was a fringe, lower ACC team, and wonder how Virginia ever loses any games to anyone all year. Virginia has won 4 of the 5 matchups now, and even the one 59-57 win, felt much more like an “escape” type of win, than a “we’re clearly the better team here,” type of win. Kentucky fans love to tell us about how John Calipari owns Rick Pitino (because… Kentucky fans) but the truth is, no one has Pitino’s number right now the way Tony Bennett does.
Anyways, that’s not what I’m here to talk about. We may be stuck in this forced rivalry with Virginia, but that doesn’t mean the ACC can make me care about it, at least until we start beating them. So here are some options for in-conference rivalries I care about much more than Virginia.
Is this entire post just the bitter musings of a Louisville fan who’s team once again had it handed to them by Virginia? Of course. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably bitter right now too. Let’s get through this together.
As I said above, this is the obvious choice. The natural matchup of basketball powerhouses, to fight alongside the Duke-UNC rivalry for the ACC to push, complete with some non-’state of North Carolina’ flair for everyone who is tired of only hearing about the Carolina schools (everyone). Aside from the separate program histories, there is also a decades worth of matchups between the two schools from their shared time in the Big East. Although for a while it seemed like Louisville beat Syracuse everytime they played, the games have actually been pretty even as of late.
Just look at the 2013 season, in which Syracuse made the Final Four and Louisville won the National Championship. In the first matchup, 6th ranked Syracuse came into the Yum! Center and upset the Cardinals, fresh off reaching the #1 ranking for the first time in the season. This game was followed by a close game in the Carrier Dome in March, where the road team once again came out victorious, this time the Cardinals. And finally, the two teams met in the final Big East Championship Game, a game that few fans of the old conference will ever forget, in which Louisville turned a 16 point second half deficit into a 17 point win. There are other classics, most notably the final game in Freedom Hall, that make the annual matchup with Syracuse so special for Louisville fans.
I truly think that if we had come into the ACC a year earlier, this would have happened. But alas, Syracuse came the year before us and were tied to fellow Big East defector, Pittsburgh. So instead, we’re stuck with Virginia, who I care about much less than Syracuse.
Hey, speaking of which. Remember how we were so upset earlier that Virginia has our number and beats us every year? Don’t you wish we had a team we could do that too? Well I’ve got great news! Pittsburgh is that team for us. Louisville has beaten Pitt eight times in a row now, the last win for the Panthers coming all the way back in January of 2010. Think about that. The last time Pitt beat Louisville, they defeated a team led by Edgar Sosa and Samardo Samuels. Peyton Siva was a seldom used freshman. We didn’t even know Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng yet.
Unfortunately, that sustained success kind of rules it out as a heated rivalry. Plus, Pitt just doesn’t have the pedigree of a program like Syracuse, or others we’ll get to. (A fun thing to do is tell a Pitt fan they’ve never been to a Final Four. Try it!) But the Big East connection, and some classic matchups in the past, such as Earl Clark’s long jumper to beat the #1 ranked Pitt team in Freedom Hall, or the Kyle Kuric dunk technical game, still are enough to make me care about this rivalry slightly more than I care about Virginia.
Now we’ve hit the big boys. The biggest thing holding back a Duke-Louisville rivalry is simple: they’ve already got that deal with UNC going on. Fair enough, but we’ve got that thing going on with Kentucky, and we could all use a little extra hate in the college basketball season. And it’s only taken two years in the ACC for Duke to remind us how so very easy it is to hate them.
Now that it has blown up into a national controversy, it may be easy for some to forget where Grayson Allen’s tripping ways began. But Louisville, and Ray Spaulding more specifically, won’t soon forget. Pair that with his hissy fit that got himself ejected in the Yum! last season, and a similar tirade from Coach K (I hope we don’t soon forget that image of Coach K scrunched up on the bench with his grumpy face on, after receiving a T), and its easy to say that the fire in this matchup is there. Plus you have some great past matchups on the biggest stages, including the Kevin Ware Elite Eight game in 2013, and of course, the 1986 National Championship Game. It seems obvious, but I care about playing Duke much more than I care about Virginia.
What’s that? Marquette isn’t in our conference anymore, you say? Okay, you got me on a technicality. But I wanted to take a timeout here and talk about the forgotten basketball rivalry that never got the attention it deserved. You can keep your Cincinnati’s and your Memphis State’s. I’ll take Marquette as the “former rival we need to find a way to get on the out of conference schedule every single season,” every day of the week.
Reece Gaines vs. Dwyane Wade. All those Travis Diener games. Jerry Smith’s homecoming. The Miracle On Main. Jae Crowder’s throat slash. That Big East tournament game in 2012 where we all realized, “wait, this Louisville team might be onto something.” Louisville-Marquette matchups never lacked drama, and it’s time we find a way to get this series back. In fact, I’d be willing to sacrifice one of our matchups with Virginia every year to get Marquette back on the schedule.
Honestly, this rivalry doesn’t really do it for me. It should, with the pedigree of the programs, and a history of great matchups (recently both home teams stealing comeback wins in 2015, and the Elite Eight game in 2008 come to mind), this one should be on par with the likes of the others on this list. But for whatever reason, I just can’t muster up the emotion for this one as I can for their neighbors on Tobacco Road.
However, it is still UNC, and they are pretty annoying. Outsiders love to complain about how Duke gets all the calls and favorable treatment, and they’re not wrong. But it doesn’t take one long in the ACC to realize that UNC is the true darlings of the conference, who get pretty much whatever they want and are routinely overvalued by the conference media. And what’s the deal with that academic scandal thing? Come on.
What I’m saying is, while I don’t totally care about this rivalry, I definitely care about it more than Virginia.
Our final Big East holdover, and another one that doesn’t seem to get quite the attention it deserves, probably because Notre Dame has become such a thorn in our side since joining the ACC. Notre Dame remains the only ACC team we haven’t beat since joining the conference, which seems strange since we got so used to knocking them off in the Big East.
This rivalry is one that has no shortage of memorable matchups. These two school’s played in at least one overtime game every year between 2009-2013, capped off by the 5 overtime thriller in 2013. There was the (other) Kyle Kuric duck technical. That weird game where they beat the TWill-Earl Clark team by 33 points and all those other times Luke Harangody drove us insane. Kevin Ware’s “saucy behavior” shimmy game (maybe that one is just me). At one point, Louisville played, and beat, Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament semifinals in three consecutive years. You could argue, and I will, that no other school played a bigger role in Notre Dame’s never making a Big East final than Louisville did. Man, I miss the Big East Tournament…
All this, combined with the potential of a great football rivalry if Notre Dame ever decides to become full members of the ACC (it’s fun to dream), make this a rivalry that deserves much, much more of my attention than Virginia.
Unless we start beating Virginia, in which case I’m all in, baby.<