… I don’t know when. It’s been several years since college basketball produced a matchup of this caliber during non-conference play.
Before the Kobe’s and Lebron’s, who skipped college all together, and the one and dones who deprived us of thrilling rematches, it was quite common for powerhouse programs to reprise their rivalries from previous seasons.
Remember the “Great 8” made for television event in the late ’90s? Teams who had made the NCAA Elite 8 the previous year were pitted against each other in pre-conference play the next. Because players stayed more than just a season, that often meant a reprise of showdowns that were pivotal in the previous year’s tournament.
This year, because of players deciding to return, the Kentucky-North Carolina showdown in Rupp Arena promises to be legend… wait for it… ARY! UK and UNC have competed annually for the past several seasons, but no game offers the storylines that this one will. As usual, it will match the top two teams in NCAA all-time victories. Next season, it will likely match the top two teams in the polls, depending on earlier results. Both teams are so loaded with talent, it’s hard to imagine either won’t be undefeated come game time. Preseason prognosticators already have them #1 and #2 now. And don’t forget, the game will be a rematch of their Elite 8 hookup taken by Kentucky last March.
And then there are the players. Kentucky loses brilliant freshman point guard Brandon Knight, junior defensive standout Deandre Liggins, and senior center Josh Harrellson to the NBA. But on Friday, freshman forward and likely lottery pick Terrence Jones announced his return to Lexington. He and fellow starter Darius Miller will welcome in the most heralded freshman class in college basketball since Michigan’s Fab Five. If Trevor Lacy commits to the Cats as expected, UK will have five freshman five-stars suiting up in blue and white next season. North Carolina fared much better with the NBA, retaining all three of their possible departures. Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller all return for the Heels. Additionally Carolina brings in two of their own 5-stars in PJ Hairston and James McAdoo.
Golden Arches might as well be erected in front of Rupp Arena for this game as there will be a heavy McDonald’s presence. Expect record scalpers prices for this ticket as well as a flurry of passes for NBA GMs to see this game. I’d also imagine CBS might give this game a prime time slot, to this point only accorded to UNC-Duke during the regular season.
The thing that’s most exciting to me is the prospect of more of these matchups if the NBA establishes a two-year minimum for players before entering the draft. If this kind of game becomes an annual occurrence, it could mark a resurgence for regular season college basketball. October 15 and Midnight Madness is just around the corner!