Bob Knight and Indiana make up, but many college basketball grudges remain

ByMyron Medcalf ESPN logo
Tuesday, February 11, 2020

On Saturday, Bob Knight returned to Indiana for the first time in 20 years. The polarizing legend's return to Assembly Hall triggered a series of emotions for those who experienced his successful, turbulent reign over a program that won three national championships.

Overall, Hoosiers fans seemed to view his return as a necessary moment for a fractured program that spent the past two decades wondering if the relationship with Knight would ever be repaired.

Until Saturday, Knight vs. Indiana had been the greatest grudge in college basketball. But it certainly wasn't the only one.

What are the top remaining grudges in college basketball? Here's our list:

Rick Pitino vs. Kentucky fans

You could make the case that Pitino's most pressing battle is still with Louisville's administration, following a scandal-filled reign that wiped his 2013 run to the national title from the NCAA's books. Pitino, who was fired in 2017 because of his alleged ties to the FBI's investigation into college basketball, recently settled his lawsuit seeking the nearly $40 million that was left on his contract at the time of his termination.

But Pitino's battle with Kentucky fans remains the most prominent ongoing drama in the sport.

One look at his last appearance at Rupp Arena proved as much. After Louisville suffered a 75-73 road loss to Kentucky in 2015, Pitino was captured on camera as he appeared to extend his middle finger toward the crowd. After the game, he denied doing so.

"No, I didn't flip off the fans," Pitino told ESPN in 2015. "I was in the tunnel. People were yelling ugly, crude things that I didn't like. The 1-8 comment [Pitino's record against Kentucky coach John Calipari] was fine. But the other comments I didn't like."

Matt Jones, a popular radio host and founder of Kentucky Sports Radio, called that moment a "very symbolic and final gesture" from Pitino, one that would stall any reunion in the near future.

"I think eventually he will come back," Jones said, "but I don't think it would happen now."

In 2016, Pitino held a reunion for his 1996 Kentucky national championship team in Miami. When asked why the 1996 squad, led by Antoine Walker, had not been honored by the school, Pitino referenced the animosity that remains.

"The fans certainly don't care for me there anymore," he told a local radio host.

It isn't difficult to understand the problems that exist between Pitino and Kentucky fans. He returned from his second rocky stint in the NBA and picked Kentucky's biggest rival. That's a perfect formula for long-lasting beef.

In recent years, however, John Calipari has reached out to Pitino and invited him back to campus. Calipari is a larger-than-life figure in Lexington and perhaps the only man who could rebuild the bridge between Pitino and Big Blue Nation.

"I think our fans would be great," Calipari said after the school honored Pitino's 1992-93 Final Four team. "I think they're by all that. He may not think that, but I'm convinced if he came back, the fans would be great to him."

But this is bigger than Calipari. We're talking about 30-plus years of emotions between a fan base and a polarizing coach. And unlike the Indiana-Bob Knight situation, this is an issue involving the program's supporters and its former coach.

That's why this feud might simmer for years to come.

Coach K vs. Maryland

For a critical stretch in the 1990s and 2000s, Maryland and Duke staged some of college basketball's best games. Their most memorable stretch unfolded during the 2000-01 season, when former ACC member Maryland and Duke faced off four times: twice in league play, once in the ACC tournament and once in the Final Four. Duke won three of those four games, including the matchup in the national semifinals before winning the national championship that season.

"Duke-Carolina wasn't it when I was in school," said Jay Williams, former Duke star and ESPN personality. "Playing Maryland in College Park was what mattered the most. Both schools ran the ACC. We won in 2001, and they won in 2002. Breaks my heart that after losing to [Indiana] in the Sweet 16 that we could have played them again in the [title game]. We think about it all the time. Gary Williams vs. Coach K was legendary."

But Maryland and Duke have not played each other since the 2013-14 season, Maryland's final year in the ACC. Although they no longer compete in the same league, the Big Ten/ACC Challenge has always seemed like an appropriate platform for the two teams to meet following Maryland's exodus from the ACC. But it hasn't happened.

It seems that the only reason the Maryland-Duke rivalry has not been restored is that Mike Krzyzewski doesn't have any interest in activating it after Maryland's decision to leave the ACC.

"That's not gonna happen again because we're not gonna schedule them," Krzyzewski said in 2013. "It's tough to schedule anybody when you have 18 conference games. But when we schedule nonconference, it's usually outside of our conference area so that we play national teams."

There you have it. Krzyzewski is the most powerful man in college basketball. If he wanted Duke to face Maryland in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, it would happen. If he wanted to schedule an annual, neutral-site affair with his team's old rival, it would happen. But that's not on the radar for Krzyzewski, who has maintained his stance on Maryland since the Terps left the ACC.

Chris Webber, the Fab Five and Michigan

Michigan's hiring of Juwan Howard, a member of the Fab Five, was the olive branch that seemed to set up a future reunion between the Fab Five and the university. But so far, it's just talk.

The Fab Five changed college basketball with their flashy style, on and off the court, and back-to-back runs to the Final Four. But Steve Fisher was fired, and the NCAA forced the school to "disassociate" from Webber following accusations that a former booster paid multiple players under Fisher's watch. Since then, former NBA star Jalen Rose, an ESPN personality, and Webber have made public statements to suggest that a rift between them would stall any Fab Five reunion, even though Webber's disassociation from the university ended in 2013.

That year, four members of the Fab Five -- Rose, Howard, Ray Jackson and Jimmy King -- were in the stands when Michigan faced Louisville in the national championship game in Atlanta. Webber was there, too, but he didn't sit with the other four.

Howard's return to Michigan seemed to signal the end of all feuds involving the Fab Five, Webber and the university. Webber recently told the Detroit News that he "welcomes" a reunion. Rose and Howard have echoed the sentiment. The administration seems open to the idea, too.

Last year, Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel said the Fab Five do not have to apologize before they are honored at the school.

"Hopefully this season, if they feel they want to come back," Manuel told reporters last year. "We will welcome all of them back."

It seems that everything is leading toward a public reunion and embrace for the Fab Five. But we have to see it to believe it. Years of bad blood fueled this rift. Even so, we hope to soon see the day when Rose, Webber, Howard, King and Jackson stand on the court together at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor.

Brad Davison vs. college basketball

Last month, Wisconsin's Brad Davison was hit with a flagrant 1 in a loss at Iowa after he made contact with Connor McCaffery's lower body.

"He grabbed me right in the -- where you don't want to be grabbed in," McCaffery told reporters of Davison's actions. "He does that. He's marked for doing that. He's the type of player, unfortunately, who feels the need to do that stuff. Tonight he cost them the game."

The maneuver led to a one-game suspension and reminded viewers of a similar incident that occurred last season when Wisconsin faced Marquette in a rivalry game. In that matchup, Davison appeared to strike former Marquette forwardJoey Hauser in the groin area, prompting outrage on social media.

When it happened again this season, the 6-foot-4 guard's detractors reminded folks of his history, enhancing his image as one of college basketball's dirtiest players. Prior to the matchup, he attracted criticism from opposing fans for the four offensive fouls he drew in his Wisconsin team's Big Ten/ACC Challenge win over NC State.

At this point, you either love Davison or you really dislike him. Few within the sport seem to sit on the fence about the Wisconsin standout.

Wichita State vs. Bill Self

By population, Kansas (2.9 million) isn't much bigger than Chicago (2.7 million). But the Midwestern state has played a critical role in college basketball. Three of its top schools -- Kansas State, Kansas and Wichita State -- have combined to reach the Elite Eight seven times since 2010.

Wichita State's run to the Final Four in 2013 -- and its overall rise under Gregg Marshall -- sparked a clamoring for an annual matchup with Kansas, one of college basketball's powerhouses. The Shockers haven't played the Jayhawks in the regular season since a 1993 matchup at Allen Fieldhouse, which sits about 160 miles from Wichita State's campus.

But Wichita State beat Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2015.

"This isn't knocking Wichita State," Self told The Kansas City Star in 2013. "But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it's not."

Self has praised Wichita State in recent years, but he has also maintained that an annual series with Wichita State wouldn't help his program. That hasn't stopped Wichita State fans from accusing Self of dodging the Shockers.

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