Kentucky vs. Duke, Gonzaga vs. UCLA among games college basketball needs most

Kansas and North Carolina injected some life into college basketball’s summer news cycle on July 24 when they announced a home-and-home series to be played Nov. 8, 2024 at KU and Nov. 14, 2025 at UNC. The on-campus showdowns will be a massive early-season attraction in the sport and mark something unprecedented in the series.

These two grand brands — tied together by Dean Smith and Roy Williams — have previously played just one on-campus game against each other. That was in 1960 at Kansas. UNC has never hosted the Jayhawks in the series, which is tied 6-6 after KU bested the Tar Heels 72-69 in the 2022 national title game to even the series.

The home-and-home is rightly being labeled as “Battle of the Blue Bloods,” and perhaps it’ll inspire some other big brands around the country to get bold with scheduling on-campus games. For this week’s edition of the Dribble Handoff, our writers are taking a cue from the Kansas-North Carolina news and exploring which home-and-home series they would most like to see in college basketball.

Arizona vs. UCLA
I’m convinced even the people who run college athletics and are making these decisions will someday look back at conference realignment largely with regret. The money’s nice, sure. But willingly jumping to bigger and better leagues will always decrease the likelihood that you’ll win as much as you’ve previously won. And losing isn’t fun for anybody. Which is why I really do believe that fans of some schools — not all, but certainly some — will eventually bemoan their place in the world of college athletics and wonder why their favorite university threw geography in the trash just to have nicer practice facilities and stuff.

Simply put, these decisions come with a price. Rivalries are among the things sacrificed. And we’re possibly about to lose another one when UCLA officially leaves the Pac-12 for the Big Ten next year because that could represent the end of UCLA and Arizona playing annually in men’s basketball.

I hope it doesn’t, though.

Mick Cronin and Tommy Lloyd are running two of the best programs in the sport — evidence being that the only Pac-12 schools besides UCLA and Arizona to win a regular-season conference title in the past 12 years are Oregon and Washington. The Bruins own a league-best 32 conference titles. Arizona has the second-most with 17. So it would be a shame if these Pac-12 rivals declined to continue playing each other regardless of whether the Pac-12 actually exists moving forward, which is now very much in doubt.

So get together, Mick and Tommy!

Work it out.

UCLA-Arizona feels like a big game almost always because it’s a meeting between two programs that have won national championships and have all of the things in place to someday do it again. College basketball benefits when the best play the best. Starting next season, that’ll no longer happen twice a year with the Wildcats and Bruins. But there has to be a way to continue the series with the two schools agreeing to meet annually while alternating between the McKale Center and Pauley Pavilion. — Gary Parrish

Kentucky vs. Duke
The two most popular (and polarizing) teams in college basketball should be willing to schedule each other in a home-and-home, and do so as soon as possible. Yes, the Devils and Cats do face off once every three seasons thanks to Champions Classic. It’s better than not having them play at all, obviously. But were it not for that made-for-TV event, these programs (most likely) would be in the midst of a 20-plus-year drought of playing each other. And for as much as the Champions Classic offers, the matchup is always on a neutral court (in a variety of cities) and does lack the playful viciousness that would come with a home-and-home. Picture Kentucky strolling into Cameron Indoor, or likewise, Duke sauntering into Rupp Arena. What a huge event those games would be for college hoops.

The schools have met 20 times in their history. The last time it happened in an on-campus environment? We have to travel back more than 50 years ago, all the way to Dec. 20, 1969. Kentucky beat Duke 98-76. The last time Kentucky played at Duke? More than a decade further back: Dec. 8, 1958 (UK won 78-64). Woof. Let’s end this dry spell.

Fortunately, Jon Scheyer seems more than willing to engage in home-and-homes in the years to come than Mike Krzyzewski was in the final 20 years of his career. I think Duke will be aligning with some big-time programs, and that will be great. Hopefully he can convince John Calipari to do the same, and before the end of this decade we can get Kentucky and Duke to face off in enemy territory. — Matt Norlander

Gonzaga vs. UCLA
We’ve been blessed as a nation enough over the years to see these two west coast powers go head to head frequently in the NCAA Tournament and in standalone non-conference popups. And they almost always deliver the goods. The people want — no, the people demand — that a recurring series between the two programs be on the books annually from here until the end of time. It’s only right.

We could get a head-to-head at the Maui Invitational this upcoming season should both run the table to meet in the title game — which would be delightful — but we can’t leave fate to decide when or if these two teams should meet.

Gonzaga and UCLA played in a thriller in the last NCAA Tournament with Gonzaga advancing 79-76, ending a roller-coaster finish that saw two lead changes in a dramatic final 15 seconds of action. That was a fitting follow-up to their previous NCAA Tournament meeting, which ended with Gonzaga winning 93-90 in overtime on a buzzer-beater from Jalen Suggs in the Final Four.. (And oh, by the way, that 2006 epic between the two in which Adam Morrison’s career came to a stunning end? That was another chapter in this rivalry. Need I say more?)

Not only are Gonzaga and UCLA the two biggest basketball brands on the West Coast and two of the most successful programs historically, but each head-to-head presents us with an elite coaching head-to-head as well with defensive-minded Mick Cronin pitted against offensive-friendly Mark Few. Even the style of the fight adds some flair.

With both teams consistently performing as top-20 teams in the sport, more matchups are sure to develop in big moments in coming years. But a back-and-forth series in Westwood and in The Kennel would elevate this rivalry to a new level. It’d be a fabulous atmosphere, and could net us a new and exciting rivalry in the sport. — Kyle Boone

Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
If the college football coaches are too cowardly to make it happen, then let basketball enjoy the beauty of Bedlam. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be Big 12 foes for just one more season before the Sooners depart for the SEC, thus ending regular meetings in a series that has been contested 240 times dating back to 1916.

OU maintains a 134-106 all-time edge, but the Pokes have won seven of the past eight. If they continue that dominance over the Sooners in the 2023-24 season, then Oklahoma should be begging to play Oklahoma State as a non-conference opponent in the 2024-25 season. You can’t walk away from a rivalry that’s more than a century old having been dominated so thoroughly dominated in recent meetings.

College basketball needs juice early in the season, and this game would bring some. Play it every November, alternating between campuses. Home-court advantage has proven massive in the rivalry with the Cowboys enjoying a 61.3% winning percentage in Stillwater and the Sooners winning 70.5% of the games in Norman. Don’t let conference realignment kill all semblance of common sense. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State must continue playing each other every season. — David Cobb

Texas vs. Baylor
Texas is on the rise and the jokes about the Longhorns’ football program being “back” don’t apply to the program that Rodney Terry is running. The Longhorns had their best season since the 2007-08 campaign and won 29 games despite major turmoil that included Chris Beard being fired at the start of the new year.

With Texas departing for the SEC in 2024, a matchup with an in-state rival should be on the books immediately. Texas looks as if they’re reading to take the next step with Terry being the man in charge. As for Baylor, they have been one of the most competitive programs in the country under Scott Drew and won a national championship in 2021.

When you think of Big 12 rivals, Texas-Baylor isn’t necessarily at the top of the list, but it’s still a very competitive series. Baylor owns a 22-20 all-time edge over Texas since 2005 and both programs look to be in the contender tier for seasons to come. The best solution would be to play this game at the start of the season. Both teams would likely be ranked near the top of the polls and it could set the tone for the season. Conference realignment shouldn’t rob college basketball fans of seeing good basketball between two soon-to-be ex-conference foes. — Cameron Salerno

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