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The Best Mid-Major Rivalry: A Debate

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Our writers give their takes.

MVC Basketball Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The hierarchy of college basketball rivalries has been a hot topic recently. While mid-major rivalries may not get as much national attention as Duke vs. UNC or Kentucky Louisville, they do mean just as much to the athletes and fans of many programs outside the power-five. Last week, MMM’s Justin Mehr made his case for the best mid-major rivalry, but others on our staff have their own opinions. We opened the discussion up to some of our writers in an attempt to answer the question: "What is the best rivalry in mid-major basketball?"

Let the debate begin:

Wichita State vs. Northern Iowa

A rivalry is only as good as the teams involved, and this Missouri Valley showdown features two of the premiere mid-major programs in the nation. Over the past two seasons, Wichita State and UNI have posted overall records of 56-14 and 54-17 respectively. UNI’s 57-52 overtime victory over the Shockers in the MVC Tournament semifinals this season was a prime example of the competitive nature of this rivalry. Both teams are regularly contenders in the NCAA Tournament, which makes each regular season meeting that much more intense as they jockey for tournament seeding.

The head coaching battle between WSU’s Gregg Marshall and UNI’s Ben Jacobson over the past decade has only furthered the intensity of this rivalry. In the 19 meetings between the two coaches, Jacobson holds a slim 10-9 edge over Marshall. The two have combined to win six of the last nine MVC Coach of the Year awards.

-- Austin Brown

South Dakota State vs. North Dakota State

For me, three of the main components that make up a good college rivalry are campus proximity, what is at stake when the teams play, and how successful the two teams are. The campuses of SDSU and NDSU are close enough to one another — less than a three-hour drive — for fans to TP their rival school’s quad after dark and make it back in time for class the next day. On top of that, the two teams have shared conference supremacy for the better part of this decade.

Prior to 2007, the Summit League was known as the Mid-Continent Conference and was largely dominated by Valparaiso. But the Jackrabbits and Bison have held almost absolute dominion over the league since then, winning six Summit League Tournament titles since 2009. Three of those years — 2013, 2015, and 2016 — the teams squared off in the title game to decide not only an NCAA Tournament bid, but the winner of the season's series.

-- Adam Drovetta

Winthrop vs. UNC-Asheville

With frequent additions to the conference, rivalries in the Big South have seemed to grow and fizzle rather quickly. However, the one consistent rivalry over the last 15 years has been Winthrop and UNC-Asheville. These two schools have dominated the Big South's representation in the NCAA tournament with 13 out of 18 possible conference championships between them (Winthrop with 9, UNC-A with 4) since the 1999-00 season. The teams have met in the conference championship game, including last season’s 77-68 victory for UNC-Asheville, three times in that same span, with Winthrop winning twice.

-- Brandon Shields

Oakland vs. Detroit

When discussing rivalries in the Horizon League, one clearly stands above the rest. In what has been dubbed the Metro Series, the rivalry between the conference's two Detroit-area schools, the Oakland Golden Grizzlies and the Detroit Titans, is filled with passion and intensity. Much of the intrigue involved in this series stems from the frustration Oakland felt for the years leading up to their addition to the Horizon League. Prior to Oakland joining the conference, these two teams only met 12 times on the hardwood and had not played each other since 2003.

The two teams did not meet again for over a decade. Oakland's program continued to improve, but the Golden Grizzlies were denied the chance to prove they should be held in a similar regard to Detroit. Oakland finally got their chance at redemption when they joined the Horizon League in 2013-14. Since joining the conference, Oakland has turned the tables on Detroit and won five of the six meetings between the two as conference foes.

-- Andrew Evans

Iona vs. Manhattan

Up there with Yankees/Mets, Islanders/Rangers, Jets/Giants and Knicks/Nets, there is no shortage of animosity between the lesser-known NYC rivals in the MAAC, Iona and Manhattan.

The Gaels and Jaspers have been featured in three of the last four MAAC Tournament championship games, with Manhattan winning twice. But it’s not just the close proximity of the campuses that pack the houses, it's the familiarity of the players. Both schools act as hotspots for local prospects, which often leads to players going up against competition they’ve known for years. Regardless of standings, it’s a different atmosphere when the crosstown rivals take the floor, which they've done 88 times since 1946.

-- Matthew Wrobel