College Football-Style Trophies for NCAA Basketball's Best Rivalries
Why don't college basketball rivalries have trophies?
From Paul Bunyan's Axe to the Old Oaken Bucket and the Platypus Trophy, college football has some incredible travelling trophies awarded to winners of the sport's biggest rivalries.
But what does the winner of Kentucky vs. Louisville or Duke vs. North Carolina get for winning in basketball? Bragging rights?
Please. You can't take absurd selfies with bragging rights.
So, if college basketball suddenly decided to implement rivalry trophies, what would they be?
Here are our suggestions of trophies for 10 of the best college basketball rivalries.
Cincinnati vs. Xavier
Separated by just three miles, the Crosstown Shootout is one of the closest and bitterest rivalries in college basketball.
These two Ohio schools have played each other at least once per season since 1945-46. Cincinnati leads the all-time rivalry with 49 wins to Xavier's 32.
If there was a trophy for this rivalry, it would have been collecting dust in Cincinnati in the 1960s and 70s. From 1957-79, the Bearcats won 22 of 24 games against the Musketeers. They won 12 of those games by double figures while each of Xavier's wins during that stretch was by a single point.
The rivalry reached a boiling point in December 2011 when a brawl erupted in the final 10 seconds of a 23-point Xavier win.
Because of the nickname already bestowed upon this rivalry, it only makes sense for the trophy to be the Crosstown Cross.
If they insisted on a trophy that wouldn't be misinterpreted as a religious symbol, they could always go with the Lead Ladle in reference to the recent sponsor of the rivalry, Skyline Chili.
Kansas vs. Kansas State
The Sunflower Showdown hasn't been much of a rivalry over the past three decades, but this bloodbath dates back to well before Duke and North Carolina even played a game against one another.
Since first meeting in January 1907, Kansas holds a commanding lead in the overall rivalry by a margin of 187-92. Kansas State had a nice run from 1972-83, winning 21 of 31 games against Kansas and advancing to the Elite Eight four times.
But in the 30 years since then, the Wildcats have won a grand total of 10 games against the Jayhawks. Kansas has won 69 games in that span, including an absurd 31-game winning streak from 1994-2005.
As was the case with the Crosstown Shootout, the trophy for this rivalry was predetermined by its nickname. Anything other than the Silver Sunflower wouldn't even make sense.
Heck, they could even have a purple sunflower seed for each of Kansas State's wins and add a blue one for every Kansas victory.
Philadelphia Big 5
For several reasons, the Philadelphia Big Five could be a very complicated trophy to award.
First off, it's not a trophy passed back and forth between two schools. Villanova would currently hold the trophy after going 4-0 against Big Five teams during the 2013-14 season, but it could well be a game between Temple and La Salle that determines the 2014-15 champion.
Does a representative from Villanova need to be present at that game to hand over the trophy, or does the winner have to schedule an appointment to drop by and pick up its prize?
Secondly, there isn't necessarily a unanimous winner for this trophy every year. During the 1980-81 season, La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph's, Temple and Villanova all went 2-2 in this five-team round robin.
For the most part, though, it's either one team going 4-0 or two teams going 3-1.
As such, my suggestion for this trophy is the Golden Cheesesteak. Like an actual cheesesteak, the trophy splits in half and can be awarded to two teams in the case of a tie. But, of course, the ultimate goal is to take home both halves of the cheesesteak.
Now comes the really complicated part: getting all five schools to agree on the type of cheesesteak. If Villanova head coach Jay Wright gets to decide, it's a chopped steak from Chubby's.
Michigan vs. Michigan State
One of the less lopsided rivalries on the list, Michigan has won 97 of the 174 games against its in-state rival for a winning percentage of 55.7.
However, it was a much more one-sided affair before Tom Izzo owned the Wolverines for more than a decade. From February 1998 through March 2010, the Spartans went 18-3 against Michigan.
Things have balanced out over the past four years, though, with seven of the last nine games being decided by 10 or fewer points. And the teams should be pretty evenly matched this year with both squads rebuilding after losing a ton this summer.
The winner on the gridiron is awarded the Paul Bunyan Trophy, but with so many states laying claim to Bunyan's "heritage," it doesn't resonate as specific enough to Michigan.
I see two options for this trophy.
The first is a Model T Replica, alluding to Michigan's vast history of automobile manufacturing. The other would be a sculpture of two of the fiercest mascots in basketball engaging in hand-to-paw combat.
Unfortunately, I don't have great alliterative names for either. Maybe the Titanium T for the former and the Bronze Battle for the latter?
Iowa vs. Iowa State
Iowa vs. Iowa State is a fantastic rivalry that doesn't get the respect it deserves.
As ESPN's Dana O'Neill wrote last December, it was the first time since the iconic battle in 1987 that both the Cyclones and the Hawkeyes were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of the game. Between that and neither team advancing to the Final Four in the past 35 years, it's no wonder this rivalry has had trouble garnering national attention.
But with both teams playing well over the past couple seasons, it's back in the spotlight.
Iowa leads the all-time series by a margin of 43-24, but the Hawkeyes also won 17 of the first 18 games played before 1921. Since 1984, Iowa State has a slight 17-15 lead with neither team winning more than three straight games during that span.
In football, these schools have the Cy-Hawk Trophy, which is a brass sculpture of the two mascots holding up a football against a backdrop of a cornfield.
That's too complicated.
How about instead of having each team's bird represented, they just go with a trophy of the state bird: the Eastern Goldfinch. As it is sometimes referred to as the Wild Canary, they could take an alliterative approach and go with the Copper Canary.
The Copper Cornstalk is also very much in play.
Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse
Pittsburgh vs. Syracuse is rarely mentioned in the hierarchy of greatest rivalries, but it's rich in history and has had some incredible recent games.
Just this past season alone, Pittsburgh trailed by one point on the road with five seconds remaining before coming up short. Less than four weeks later, Syracuse was down by one point with four seconds left before Tyler Ennis drained a 35-foot runner to keep the perfect season alive.
While many will contend that Syracuse vs. Georgetown is a better rivalry, the Orange and the Panthers have played more games against one another (104 for Pittsburgh vs. 90 for Georgetown) and will actually remain rivals for the foreseeable future with both teams now in the ACC.
Better yet, this might be the most obvious trophy on the entire list. Even Jacques Clouseau can see that the winner of these games should get to take home an Orange Panther.
Kentucky vs. Louisville
With all due respect to the other challengers, Kentucky vs. Louisville is, bar none, the best nonconference rivalry in college basketball. Like little kids counting down the days until Christmas, we wait with bated breath for this annual showdown in late December or early January.
And thanks to the NCAA tournament, this thing has even gotten a kick into overdrive in recent seasons. Kentucky knocked Louisville out of both the 2012 and 2014 tournaments. The two schools have combined for five Final Four appearances in the past four years.
On December 27, the Cardinals and Wildcats will meet during the regular season for the 32nd consecutive year, with Kentucky having won 20 of the past 31 regular-season meetings.
There are two great options for trophies here. My personal preference would be the Bronze Bourbon Barrel, in honor of the fact that 95 percent of the world's bourbon comes from distilleries in Kentucky.
If they wish not to promote the consumption of alcohol on college campuses, however, the other option is a petrified version of one of those outlandish hats that women wear to the Kentucky Derby. Because, come on, who doesn't want to see a bunch of kids forcefully shoving one of these things onto the head of John Calipari or Rick Pitino?
Arizona vs. UCLA
The first 61 years of this rivalry were anything but that. From 1923-1984, UCLA went 23-2 against Arizona—and only seven of those games were played during John Wooden's 27 seasons with the Bruins. Imagine how lopsided this would be if they had played twice per season during those years.
Over the past 30 years, though, this has been the best West Coast rivalry and one of the most must-see pairings in the entire country.
Just how evenly matched have these teams been? They are dead even with 35 wins apiece over the last 70 games. Of those 70 games, 48 have been decided by 12 or fewer points; 15 were decided by a single possession.
Oddly enough, when there have been blowouts, Arizona always benefited. Nine of those 70 games were decided by 24 or more points—all nine were wins for the Wildcats—but it has been more than a decade since the last one of those ugly games.
Since 1988, Arizona and UCLA have combined to appear in 27 Sweet 16s and eight Final Fours while winning one national championship apiece. One or the other has won at least a share of the Pac-10/Pac-12 regular-season title in 22 of the past 29 years.
Despite all that recent history, there's no good nickname for the rivalry, and there certainly hasn't been a trophy awarded to its winner.
What if we just sort of mashed together their mascots? Instead of a bruin or a wildcat, how about a Bronze Bearcat? Sure, bearcats are indigenous to forests in Southeast Asia as opposed to deserts in Southwest U.S., but who doesn't love a good ironic trophy?
Indiana vs. Purdue
This rivalry right here is why we need trophies.
Indiana vs. Purdue is easily one of the best rivalries in college basketball history. B/R's Thad Novak even dedicated an entire slideshow to its history this past March.
But there certainly haven't been many recent seasons in which both of these teams were good.
Both Indiana and Purdue were ranked in the Top 15 when they met in February 2008. Prior to that, Leap Day in 2000 was the last time both were ranked in the Top 25 at the time of playing.
And for the most part, the Hoosiers and Boilermakers haven't even been playing competitive games. Dating back to that game in February 2000, 20 of their 25 meetings have been decided by 11 or more points. The last three games have been decided by 18, 28 and 37 points.
Since there's pretty much no other reason to tune into these games as of late, give us a tangible trophy for the underdog to try to win.
Indiana and Purdue have the Old Oaken Bucket in football, so how about the Platinum Peach Basket in basketball?
Duke vs. North Carolina
The granddaddy of college basketball rivalries, Duke and North Carolina have been exchanging hateful haymakers for nearly a century.
North Carolina has a pretty substantial lead in this rivalry's history, winning 133 games as opposed to just 105 for Duke. Duke would have to go more than a decade without a loss to even the score.
In more recent history, though, Duke has the edge. Since March 1984, the Blue Devils hold a 39-32 lead over the Tar Heels. The difference is even more pronounced over the past 15 years, as Duke has 25 wins and North Carolina has just 12 since January 1999.
In what feels like a mathematical impossibility, Duke and North Carolina have combined to play 286 games in the NCAA tournament and have reached 33 Final Fours without ever playing a tournament game against one another. They met in the semifinals of the 1971 NIT, but that marks the only time they have squared off after the conference tournament.
The trophy for this one pretty much goes without saying, doesn't it? Every time these two schools square off, we're reminded a million times that they are located less than 10 miles apart on "Tobacco Road."
Doesn't the trophy have to be a Gold Tobacco Plant? Tobacco has certainly been vilified in recent years—though recent efforts to combat the Ebola virus may help save face for the maligned plant—but it was North Carolina's cash crop for four centuries.
Respect the history.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.
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