College basketball was built on the backs of the rivalries that define the game and it's brightest moments. The fade-away jumpers that capture a nation's breath. The careers launched with a single buzzer-beating three. The legacies that transcend the test of time.
Rivalries have carried college basketball through the decades. Each one carrying its own special history; its own accomplishments. There are countless rivalries in college basketball; as many as their are teams. But, only a select few can carry the honorable title of the best in the nation. An elite few that always provide memorable moments and games that can make or break careers.
When it comes to rivalries in the Mid-American Conference, none is better than the basketball rivalry between MAC East opponents Akron and Ohio. Sunday night the two foes renewed their heated rivalry in a spirited double-overtime effort that is a candidate for the best game of 2014.
Akron and Ohio traded blows for 40 minutes, but that wasn't enough. It took two overtimes to declare a winner, and in the end players literally laid on the court, unable to move from exhaustion. The game was fantastic. It had numerous lead changes, unlikely stars, and dominating performances (see: Jon Smith's eight blocks).
When the final buzzer went off and Akron claimed the 83-80 victory the rivalry not only added another chapter to its growing archive, it claimed its rightful crown as the greatest rivalry in college basketball today.
To understand that statement, one must understand this rivalry.
Akron-Ohio doesn't have decades of deep-seeded hatred. The teams have met just 70 times in their history, chump change when compared to the likes of Duke-UNC. It wasn't until 1992-1993 when Akron joined the MAC that the two began playing each other every season.
But, what this rivalry lacks in longevity it makes up for with exciting, competitive contests. Of the 70 match ups between the two schools, each has won 35, with an average margin of victory of just nine points. How's that for competition?
The passion with which these two teams play each other is unrivaled. The numerous overtime match ups (how about the four overtime thriller in 2004?) prove it. Without the cameras of a nationally televised broadcast, no two teams play each other harder.
Without Top 25 rankings hanging over their heads, no players play as if more is on the line than the men on the Akron and Ohio rosters when they face off against each other. Watch a Zips-Bobcats game and you feel as if the players are defining their own careers from their performance in that one single game. In the tiny gyms of the MAC, somehow when these teams play each other, it feels as if the whole world is watching.
Games aren't won or lost when these two play; no, it isn't that simple. When Akron and Ohio play seasons are made. Championships, won. Legacies, defined. Take the past five seasons of this rivalry. Since 2008-2009 no two college basketball teams have played each other tougher, harder and with more hatred and respect than Akron and Ohio. No rivals have met up in more meaningful games in that span than these two. And no two teams have produced more consistently memorable games than these squads in that timeframe.
Don't believe me? Well, let's put this in perspective for a second. Since the start of the 2008-2009 season the Zips and Bobcats have met a total of 11 times in the regular season. Here's the final scores of those match ups:
|Jan. 30, 2009 @ Ohio||Ohio 70, Akron 65 in OT|
|Mar. 5, 2009 @ Akron||Akron 60, Ohio 51|
|Jan. 13, 2010 @ Ohio||Akron 67, Ohio 62|
|Feb. 14, 2010 @ Akron||Akron 91, Ohio 88 in 2OT|
|Jan 12, 2011 @ Akron||Ohio 79, Akron 70|
|Mar. 1, 2011 @ Ohio||Ohio 80, Akron 55|
|Jan 14, 2012 @ Akron||Akron 68, Ohio 63|
|Feb. 26, 2012 @ Ohio||Ohio 85, Akron 61|
|Feb. 2, 2013 @ Akron||Akron 86, Ohio 72|
|Feb. 27, 2013 @ Ohio||Akron 88, Ohio 81 in OT|
|Jan. 12, 2014||Akron 83, Ohio 80 in 2OT|
Since 2008-2009, the MAC Champion has been one of these two teams every year:
|2009||Akron over Buffalo|
|2010||Ohio 81, Akron 75 in OT|
|2011||Akron over Kent State|
|2012||Ohio 64, Akron 63|
|2013||Akron 65, Ohio 46|
That's a total of seven overtimes in 15 games, including three in the last three games. Show me another rivalry that has consistently produced such competitive games over the past half decade. Show me another rivalry that could carry as much intensity without the hype of national TV. Show me another rivalry that has as much of an impact on the foes' seasons as this one, then I'll show you Sunday night's 83-80 double-overtime game.
This rivalry doesn't pretend to be steeped in decades of history. It's not a historic one like many of the nationally-renowned tilts. But what Akron-Ohio lacks in history it makes up for with fiercely competitive games littered all over its landscape. Games that have built the rivalry into the best, if not the most talked bout, rivalry in the game today. This is Akron vs. Ohio, and there's no other rivalry in college basketball today that can compete with it.