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A Review of Kentucky's Basketball Rivals

The BBN is not always in agreement as to who our rivals are. That simply reflects the diversity of a large fan base. I think most will agree that most on my list are genuine, based on the reasons of those on my list. One thing is for sure, Kentucky may play more rivals this year than usual. Three will only have their shot at the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament and that depends on the selection committee and the team's success during tournament play.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky fans tend to (sports-hate) hate Louisville, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA , Connecticut, Florida,  the "once upon a time rival" Indiana, and Tennessee.  We have our reasons, ranging from the little brother syndrome that we are forced to endure to just the pure joy of silencing "Rocky Top, Whooooo!, Rocky Top, Tennessee."

Here's some information on Kentucky and our rivals based on  national championships:

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA (11 national titles - #7 in all time wins with 1,781)

Everyone, including Kentucky, is still chasing UCLA's 11 National Championships. Kentucky needs three more titles to tie the Bruins. UCLA's name is synonymous with former Head Coach John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood, who coached UCLA from 1947 through 1975. His last game was in the 1975 NCAA Championship game against Joe B. Hall's Wildcats which UCLA won 92-85 in San Diego. That was his first victory over Kentucky in four tries. Of UCLA's 11 titles, 10 belong to John Wooden.  UCLA won another championship in 1995 under coach Jim Harrick.

  • UCLA has appeared in the NCAA Tournament 44 times and has a 99-36 tournament record. They've played in 17 Final Fours.
  • They are the only program to have had four undefeated seasons.
  • Last meeting: 11/21/06 - UCLA 73 UK 57 - Maui Classic
  • Last appearance in the championship game: 2006 - Florida 73 UCLA 57 - Indianapolis
  • UCLA's all time record against Kentucky is 4-6 which doesn't really qualify them as a rival. That being said, beating the Bruins on national television will bring much joy to the BBN and cause more angst against Steve Alford over at Bruin Nation.
  • The Bruins won their opener against Montana State 113-78 and beat Coastal Carolina 84-75 on Sunday

The two teams will meet for only the 11th time on December 20th in Chicago. Just keep in mind that UCLA is a rival only because of the 11 championships.

Andy Lyons

Kentucky (8 national titles - #1 in all time wins with 2,140)

In addition to leading the nation in all time wins. Kentucky is #1 in all time win percentage. Kentucky is the only school with five coaches who have won a NCAA championship: Adolph Rupp (4), Joe B. Hall (1), Rick Pitino (1), Tubby Smith (1) and John Calipari (1).

According to the Wall Street Journal, Kentucky has the most bragging rights in college basketball. The WSJ even provides a chart to support their claim. The chart is sortable although I have no idea why.

  • Kentucky's record in the NCAA Tournament stands at 116-47 (71.1%) You can see the history at John Scott's Big Blue History site.
  • Kentucky has played in 16 Final Fours.
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2014 - Connecticut 60 Kentucky 54 - Arlington, TX
  • Even in a losing effort, the 1992 Duke-Kentucky game still stands as the best basketball game in NCAA history in the eyes of the media.
  • Kentucky won its season opening game against Grand Canyon 85-45 and beat Buffalo on Sunday 71-52
  • The Wildcats are the preseason # 1 team, but Ken Pomeroy thinks they'll be an underdog to Louisville.

Roy Wiliams

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina (5 national titles - #3 in all tine wins with 2,114)

The North Carolina Tarheels would have to be considered the second best program even though they're # 3 in all time wins. The reason is due to their record 18 Final Four appearances. Three UNC coaches have won national championships at North Carolina: Frank McQuire 1957, Dean Smith 1982 & 1993 and Roy Williams 2005 & 2009.

That 2005 title could be vacated in the near future due to the academic fraud scandal, according to a USA Today article this week. For details on the scandal, the Raleigh Observer probably has the best coverage on why the 2005 title is in question.

When the two teams meet on 12/13 the scandal will take a back seat because North Carolina is one of the few programs to hold a winning record against the Wildcats. UNC has won 23 and UK has won 13. In the five times the two have played since Calipari was hired, the Cats stand at 3-2.

  • North Carolina leads the nation with 18 Final Four appearances
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2009 - North Carolina 89 Michigan State 72 - Detroit
  • Last meeting: 12/14/13 - North Carolina 82 Kentucky 77 - Chapel Hill
  • Next meeting: 12/13/14 - Lexington
  • UNC beat Robert Morris 103-59 in their first game of the season on Sunday

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana (5 national titles - #10 in all time wins with 1,736)

The series ended after the 2011-2012 season when Coach Tom Crean and Coach Cal could not agree on a venue for playing future games. Indiana wanted the series to remain on a home and home basis while Kentucky wanted a "neutral" site. Kentucky went so far as to offer to play all the games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, but IU wouldn't budge. Since then, Indiana has had difficulty finding big name opponents for a December game.

If you'll recall, Indiana fans rushed the court after beating 73-72 Kentucky on a last second shot. Kentucky fans felt that Indiana, as a supposedly storied program, pulled a "bush league" move by raising a banner at Assembly Hall to celebrate their victory. Kentucky avenged that loss 102-90 in the Southeast Region semi-finals in Atlanta the following March.

Indiana, under Tom Crean, has become an irrelevant program and they've had their problems with players leaving, players failing drug test and injuries. For those of us who relished going to play Indiana in the RCA Dome and going to dinner at St. Elmo's or Ruth's Chris after the game, the once great series with IU is now a sad state of affairs simply because the Hoosiers believed they were more important than the facts have shown since Crean's arrival.

  • Indiana's record against Kentucky stands at 24-32
  • Indiana has made 37 NCAA Tournament appearances and holds a 64-32 record
  • Indiana has won 5 national championships with the last coming in 1987 under the leadership of Bob Knight. Two of those were under Coach Branch McCracken (1940, and 1953) and three (1976, 1981 & 1987) were under Coach Bob Knight.
  • Indiana's 1976 championship team was the last team in the NCAA to go undefeated (32-0).
  • Over 113 years, IU's all time record stands at 1701-942.
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2002 - Maryland 64 Indiana 52 - Atlanta
  • Last meeting: 3/23/12 - Round of 16 Southeast Regional - Atlanta - Kentucky 102 Indiana 90
  • Next meeting: no time soon, unless Indiana earns a game in the NCAA Tournament
  • The Hoosiers beat Mississippi Valley State 116-65 to open their season
  • For more information on Indiana, go to their Basketball Fact Book.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Duke (4 national titles - #4 in all time wins with 2,027)

The Kentucky-Duke rivalry is mostly based on NCAA Tournament games with a few other special events thrown in the mix. Since 1963, the two teams have met in the Sugar Bowl Championship in 1963, the UKIT Championship in 1969, the 1979 and 1988 Tip-off Classic and the 1998, the 2001 Jimmy V. Classic and the2012 Champions Classic.  In the big dance, Kentucky beat Duke in the 1966 Final Four, the 1978 championship game, and the 1998 Southeast Region final. Duke has beaten the Cats in the 1980 Mideast Semifinals and the 1992 East Region Finals in overtime. While Duke has won the last three matches, Kentucky leads the all time series 11-9. The 1992 overtime game is considered the best college game of all time. ESPN and CBS won't let anyone forget the Christian Laettner shot that won the game.

  • Duke has 15 Final Fours (3rd all time) appearances and has 15 Final Four wins (3rd all time which is tied with North Carolina)
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2010 - Duke 61 Butler 50 - Indianapolis
  • Last meeting: 11/13/12 - Duke 75 Kentucky 68 - Champions Classic - Atlanta
  • Next Meeting: NCAA Tournament?
  • Duke also has 9 McDonald's All-Americans: Quinn Cook 2011, Amile Jefferson 2012, Marshall Plumlee 2011, Rasheed Sulaimon 2012, Matt Jones 2013, Grayson Allen 2014, Tyus Jones 2014, Jahlil Okafor 2014, and Justice Winslow 2014.
  • Duke beat Presbyterian 113-44 in their season opener and beat Fairfield 109-59 on Saturday

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Connecticut (4 national titles - #26 in all time wins with 1,621)

Kentucky and Connecticut have played five times and has won four times, three times in the NCAA Tournament, and also in the 2010 Maui Classic. Kentucky lone win came in 2009 in the Big East Invitational. Two of UConn's wins came in the 2011 Final Four and last year's championship game. The Huskies have win titles under two coaches, Jim Calhoun and new coach Kevin Ollie. The rivalry is based solely on NCAA Tournament games and I don't believe either team gives the other team much thought until tournament time, and only then when they play each other.

  • UConn has played in 5 Final Fours
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 4/17/14 - Connecticut 60 Kentucky 54 - Arlington, TX
  • Last meeting: NCAA Championship game - Connecticut 60 Kentucky 54 - Arlington, TX
  • Next meeting: NCAA Tournament?
  • The Huskies beat Bryant University 66-53 in their opening game.

Mike Stobe-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville (3 national titles - #11 in all time wins with 1,728)

The birds with teeth have had Big Blue envy since they were in the Missouri Valley Conference. Kentucky refused to play them for years until the political pressure became so great that Joe B. Hall was forced into the rivalry. Denny Crum made Louisville relevant with his two national championships and the hiring of former UK coach Rick Pitino fueled the fire.  According to their media guide, Louisville boasts the following accomplishments:

  • an all time 1,728-875 record in 100 years of intercollegiate basketball and have produced 66 winning seasons in the last 69 years.
  • The Cards are 7th in the nation with 10 Final Four appearances. Under Denny Crum, no other school went to the Final Four four times during the 1980s and Crum won NCAA titles in 1980 and 1986.
  • Louisville's 40 NCAA Tournament appearances if 5th best all time and their 113 games played in the tournament rank as the 6th best. They have a 72-41 record in the tournament.
  • Rick Pitino has taken seven teams to the Final Four and has won a title at Kentucky (1996) and another at Louisville (2013).
  • Louisville's all time record against Kentucky stands at 15-32. In the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky and Louisville have faced off seven times since 1959 with Kentucky winning four. There has been only one Final Four match which Kentucky won 69-61 in the national semi-final game on their way to their 8th national championship. Kentucky also beat Louisville in the 1948 Olympic Trials. John Scott's website has the series documented here.
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2013 - Louisville 82 Michigan 76 - Atlanta
  • Since John Calipari became Kentucky's coach in April, 2009, Kentucky has played Louisville 7 times and has won 6. Louisville has replaced Indiana as an elite team, and their fans do not rush the court in those instances where they manage to beat the Wildcats. L1C(alipari)6.
  • Last meeting: 3/24/14 - Round of sixteen Midwest Regional - Indianapolis - Kentucky 74 Louisville 69
  • Next meeting: 12/27/14 Louisville, KY the next game after Kentucky plays UCLA
  • Louisville defeated Minnesota 81-68 in a battle of father and son (you know, Rick and Richard) in Puerto Rico in their season opener.


Ronald Martinez

Kansas (3 national titles - #2 in all tine wins with 2,126)

The University of Kansas is one of the most storied programs in the NCAA, particularly the coaching tree. Their first coach was none other than the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith. Forrest "Phog" Allen is another name to remember if you are a college basketball fan. He coached at Kansas for 39 years. Allen brought Kansas their first NCAA Tournament championship in 1952. Larry Brown coached Kansas to another title in 1988 with "Danny & the Miracles." Under Bill Self, Kansas won its third championship in 2008.

  • Adolph Rupp was a Kansas graduate.
  • Kentucky played Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse the day Adolph Rupp died.
  • Kansas currently leads the nation in consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances with 25
  • 14 Final Four appearances (5th all time) and 12 Final Four victories (5th all time)
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2012 - Kentucky 67 Kansas 59 - New Orleans
  • Last meeting: 4/2/12 - Kentucky 67 Kansas 59 - New Orleans
  • Next meeting: 11/18/14 - Champions Classic - Indianapolis
  • Kansas defeated UC Santa Barbara 69-59 to open this season.

Tom Pennington

Florida (2 national titles - not in top 50 in all time wins)

Florida's Billy Donovan put the Gators on the map with his back to back championships in 2006 and 2007. Florida's all time record against Kentucky is 37-94. Donovan's record stands at 17-26 against the Cats. Kentucky tried to hire the former UK assistant at least once. Many wanted him as Rick Pitino's replacement. Had he not turned down the Kentucky offer when Tubby Smith left for Minnesota, John Calipari would not be our coach today. Donovan has taken the Gators to three championship appearances. Their first was a loss 89-76 to Michigan State in Y2K in Indianapolis.

  • Last season, Florida became the first team other than Kentucky to go undefeated in SEC regular season play.
  • Before Billy Donovan became their head coach, Florida had five NCAA Tournament appearance. Since his arrival Florida has been invited 13 times.
  • Florida has 3 Final Fours under their belt and won two championships.
  • Last appearance in a championship game: 2007 - Florida 84 Ohio State 75 - Atlanta
  • Last meeting: 3/16/14 - SEC Tournament Championship - Florida 61 Kentucky 60 - Atlanta
  • Remember, the Gators beat the Cats three times last season. You have to respect that.
  • Next meeting: 2/7/15 - Gainesville, FL
  • Florida defeated William & Mary 68-45 in their season opening game

Florida hasn't yet earned an elite status on the national scene, but they do have that ranking in the conference. Year in and year out, since Donovan arrived, the Gators have been Kentucky's biggest conference rival.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee (no national titles - #40 in all time wins with 1,552)

Yeah, I put up a photo of the women's team which is infinitely better than the men's team. Call it revenge for Saturday's football game. You'll also note that UT and IU are not of larger font headlines.

Tennessee is included in this list of rivals due to the fact that they have the best record (67-150) of any SEC team against Kentucky. Tennessee is the only SEC team to have beaten Kentucky five straight times and they've done it twice, beginning with a stretch from 2/26/1916 - 3/3/1917 and they did it again from 2/15/75 - 3/5/77. Tennessee head coach Ray Mears was one of Kentucky's fans all time coaches to hate. On road trips, Mears would have his team come on the court on unicycles while juggling oranges which enraged the SEC home team fans, including Kentucky's, eventually began pelting the Vols with oranges. Tennessee handed #1 ranked Rupp's Runts their first loss of the season in Knoxville on 3/5/66. Then there was the Bernie & Ernie Show who never lost to Kentucky. Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld beat Kentucky five straight times, beginning:

2/15/75 - UT (unranked) 103 #4 UK 98 - Knoxville

1/10/76 - #9 UT 90 (unranked) UK 88 (overtime) - Lexington

2/7/76 - #8 UT 92 (unranked) UK 85 - Knoxville

1/12/77 - (unranked) UT 71 #2 UK 67 (overtime) - Lexington

3/5/77 - #11 UT 81 #2 UK 79 - Knoxville

Mears final record against Kentucky was 15-15. The BBN's hate for Bruce Pearl when he coached at UT simply wasn't in the same league as their hate for Ray Mears. Unfortunately, Mears died in 2007.R.I.P.

  • Tennessee has appeared in the NCAA Tournament 19 times and their overall record is 16-20. Their last appearance was in 2011.
  • The Volunteers have never won a regional championship in six games and their record in the region semifinals stands at 1-5
  • Last appearance in a championship game: never, ever
  • Last meeting: 1/18/14 - Kentucky 74 Tennessee 66 - Lexington
  • Next meeting: 2/17/15 - Knoxville
  • Tennessee lost to # 15 Virginia Commonwealth 85-69 in Annapolis in their season opener. At least they've upgraded their non-conference schedule.

Were it not for three Tennessee coaches, Kentucky fans would have never given Tennessee a second thought. In addition to Mears and Pearl, Kentucky fans never liked Don Devoe who had an 11-14 record against the Cats. He had four straight wins against Kentucky beginning with his first season. Kentucky returned the favor in his last four games against the Cats.

Final thoughts

These schools are Kentucky's main rivals, at least in my view. I fully expect to meet one or more in the NCAA Tournament this year. The most likely candidates will be Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, Florida and Connecticut. The round will be the question. You almost have to assume that the selection committee will provide Kentucky with the stiffest competition they can come up with. We may even get the opportunity to play (big whoop) Indiana ... if they make it to the tournament. Wouldn't that be "special?"

Feel free to add your own to the list of Rivals. Just for what it's worth, if you don't like to pay guys like Pomeroy, you can get the same info, including the four factors, over at