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After Duke-UNC and Kentucky-Louisville, what's the best rivalry in college basketball?

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The top two showcase series in college basketball are unquestioned, but when you get to No. 3, everyone seems to have a different opinion.

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It's a generally accepted fact at the moment that the two most prominent rivalries in college basketball exist between Duke and North Carolina, and Kentucky and Louisville. After that, however, the hierarchy of hate has a total lack of clarity.

What is college basketball's third-biggest rivalry heading into 2016-17? Let's examine the top five candidates for the honor.

Cincinnati-Xavier

The Case For

The rivalry has produced a number of high-profile clashes, tremendous finishes and the most notorious in-game fight that college basketball has seen in the last decade. The Crosstown Shootout is unapologetically local (just 2.7 miles separate the two schools), and the fact that the game sometimes seems to get lost in the holiday shuffle has done nothing to diminish the disdain that each program feels for the other. We're also talking about two programs that have been consistent players on the national scene for a long time.

Bob Huggins, who spent a season at Kansas State, was asked a few years ago which rivalry was the best that he'd ever been a part of, and this was his response:

"Cincinnati vs. Xavier is off the charts, I mean, it's off the charts. Kansas State vs. Kansas is a rivalry, but it doesn't come close. I think a lot of it is proximity. You got husbands who went to Xavier and wives who went to UC and vice-versa. It's crazy."

The Case Against

While both programs have been consistently successful over the years, Cincinnati hasn't been to a Final Four since 1992 (or a regional final since 1996), and Xavier is still a relative newcomer that hasn't gotten over the hump and into the final weekend of the tournament. The timing of the game -- typically mid-December -- also keeps it off the radar of the casual sports fan, who's still honed in on playoff football at both the college and pro level.

Syracuse-Georgetown

Via USA Today Sports

The Case For

The defining rivalry of the old Big East produced many wars of words between Jim Boeheim and John Thompson, the Patrick Ewing/Pearl Washington in-game scuffle and, of course, "Manley Field House is officially closed." Tensions never seemed to diminish between the two programs even after Syracuse bolted for the ACC. In fact, the fires of disdain continued to burn so brightly that the two sides chose to renew their series this past season in non-conference form.

Bonus points that Syracuse has both online personalities and entire websites dedicated to bashing the Hoyas.

The Case Against

Like Duke-Maryland and Kansas-Missouri before it, the old Syracuse-Georgetown rivalry became an innocent casualty of football-focused realignment. The whole basis of the rivalry was that these were two pre-eminent Big East programs fighting for regular season and tournament conference titles. How well the rivalry can adapt and find an identity in its new non-conference form is still to be seen. It also doesn't help that Georgetown's already solid rivalry with Villanova has continued to blossom in the new Big East.

Indiana-Purdue

The Case For

These are the two biggest universities and two most historically successful basketball programs in a state that is crazy about basketball. They've played consistently for almost the entire time that college basketball has been a thing, meeting for the first time in 1901 and playing more than 200 games since. While Purdue leads the all-time series 115-89, Indiana has the trump card with five national championships. Both programs claim an identical 22 Big Ten titles.

The Case Against

Recent history is not on the side of the Indiana-Purdue rivalry, as neither team has made it past the Sweet 16 in 15 years. The games themselves have also consistently been snoozers for the past decade, and last season was just the second time since 2007 that both teams have finished with a winning record in Big 10 play. Adding to the case against is that Indiana's now stagnant rivalry with Kentucky once seemed to burn at least as bright as its rivalry with Purdue, and that the Hoosiers have been dealing in a nice little war of words with fellow in-state foe Notre Dame the last couple of years.

UCLA-Arizona

ucla-zona
Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

The Case For

The two most prominent hoops programs on the West Coast have produced 12 national championships, 22 Final Fours and too many competitive games to remember. UCLA and Arizona have both been factories for next-level talent for as long as anyone can remember, and have won close to 75 percent of the Pac-12 championships handed out during their time in the conference together. If the Bruins' young talent can live up to its preseason hype this season, then the games between these two should once again demand the Eastern half of the United States' attention, regardless of how late they tip-off.

The Case Against

People west of the Mississippi like to compare UCLA-Arizona to Duke-North Carolina, which is a bold move since the ACC powers have won five national championships since either the Bruins or the Wildcats last partook in some net-cutting. Also, do Arizona and UCLA not like each other? There's an intensity during the games because both teams are typically nationally ranked, but you don't seem to hear about the same level of disdain between these two teams as you do with the other pairs on the list, or even with another West Coast rivalry like Gonzaga-Saint Mary's. Maybe that's at least partially due to the fact that UCLA has its own thing going on with USC, and Arizona, to a lesser extent, with Arizona State.

Duke-Kentucky

The Case For

Sure, it's a bit of a wildcard selection, but the burgeoning national battle between Duke and Kentucky feels like the emerging super rivalry that college basketball needs. The two national powers are the unquestioned kings of recruiting right now, and their battles for the country's top talent have resulted in some recent shots being taken both in quotes and tweets.

Of course, you also have the fact that the two teams played arguably the greatest college basketball game of all time in 1992, and then another classic when Kentucky got its revenge six years later. There's always been animosity between the two programs because of those two games, and now with the two playing at least semi-regularly due to the Champions Classic, there's more room for that animosity to grow. It also wouldn't hurt if they met in a showcase NCAA Tournament game sometime soon.

The Case Against

Both teams are already involved in the sport's two signature rivalries, and neither is ever going to hate the other more than they do their in-state nemesis. There's also no lengthy history or annual series game at play here. Squaring off once every three years is better than nothing, but to be one of the sport's defining rivalries, playing every season is usually a necessity.

Also Considered

Marquette-Wisconsin
Iowa-Iowa State
Kansas-Kansas State
Gonzaga-Saint Mary's
Ohio State-Michigan

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