Which Rivalries Will Survive the AAC Shuffle, and Which Won’t?Posted by CD Bradley on October 17th, 2013
Cincinnati, Memphis and Louisville have played each other for decades in a variety of conferences, but the survival of those rivalries may be in question when the Cardinals leave the two other behind in the AAC next year.
Memphis coach Josh Pastner and Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced at AAC media day Wednesday that the two schools will renew their rivalry after the Cardinals join the ACC next year. Memphis will visit Louisville in 2015-16, with the Cardinals visiting the Tigers the following season.
“Everyone talks about Duke-Carolina, I think Memphis-Louisville is as intense as any rival game of any sport in the country,” Pastner said. “I mean that. I just don’t think it gets the credit it deserves nationally about how intense the two fan bases are because it’s two of the best fan bases in the country.”
No such announcement came regarding the Louisville-Cincinnati rivalry. Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said Wednesday that the ball was in Louisville’s court.
“It’s just kind of in a holding pattern right now,” Cronin said. “We’re in different situations. I want to play because we need to beef up our non-league schedule, so it’s an easier call for me right now.”
Louisville has played more games against the Bearcats (97) and Tigers (87) than any other school in its long and illustrious history. The trio first shared conference affiliation in the Missouri Valley Conference in the 1960s; they later teamed up in the Metro Conference and Conference USA throughout the modern era. Memphis and Cincinnati were also co-members of the Great Midwest before joining Conference USA; Louisville and Cincinnati left that league for the Big East in 2005.
Pitino cited the fact that Memphis made the first request as the reason for that deal getting consummated, but Cronin countered that the Louisville-Memphis rivalry actually renewed two years ago, when the Cardinals and Bearcats shared a league and had no reason to discuss a non-conference game. Several other reasons for Pitino’s reticence suggest themselves. First, the Cardinals have a few major non-conference fixtures. Louisville, of course, maintains an annual rivalry game with Kentucky. It will reportedly play Indiana in the 2014 Jimmy V Classic, and the schools have discussed a home-and-home series as well. Pitino publicly lobbied for the Big East to add Memphis, and told Andy Katz this summer that the two schools would continue playing.
Second is the relationship between Pitino and Cronin. Cronin, a former Pitino assistant at Louisville, cites the Louisville coach as a major influence on his career. They remain close. And while Pitino has denied that coaching against former colleagues bothers him, perhaps his closest protege, Florida’s Billy Donovan, talked about the nature of those games on the eve of facing Pitino for a spot in the 2012 Final Four. “I think when you’re in this profession — for me, now close to 25 years — you have situations,” Donovan said. “Whether it’s former assistants like John Pelphrey and Anthony Grant, who were in the SEC, Coach Pitino several years ago having to go out to Arizona State and play against Herb Sendek, those are hard games, because of such a close relationship.”
Perhaps Pitino would rather avoid those emotionally tough games, when he has equally attractive options that lack such difficulty?
As for Cincinnati, it still has the Crosstown Classic with Xavier. It otherwise lacks regular regional rivalries, with Ohio State’s steadfast refusal to renew their intrastate showdown the most frustrating. It also hasn’t played Kentucky since 2005, Indiana since 1993 or West Virginia since the latter left the Big East before last season.