By Ben Present > Senior > Journalism > University of Maryland
In the world of college basketball, there will always be revelry to the rivalry. The stadiums are jammed tighter, the fans cheer harder, the coaches yell louder (and sweat more) and the athletes play harder. But most importantly, the rivalries are just a little more venomous.With the passing years, not much changes for the most storied feuds in college sports, except for the faces that carry them on. And this year, as there is no shortage of experience or talent to clash on the hardwood, the big in-conference matchups should be as exciting as ever.
CM’s chosen three pairs of athletes who play for rival schools. Each athlete will see their counterpart twice this season. Do these young athletes and campus gods prepare differently for rivalry games? Are they that much more fired up when their biggest competition comes to town? We decided to ask them.
TYLER ZELLER VS. KYLE SINGLER
School: University of North Carolina
Jersey Number: 44
Height and Weight: 7’, 240 lbs
Points Per Game: 7.1
Points Per Game against rival: 4
An oversized forward, Zeller will look to replenish offensive and defensive efforts left behind by NBA first-round pick Ed Davis, who averaged 13 points and 10 rebounds per game at forward for the Tar Heels last year. Zeller hopes to have a breakout year, after missing significant portions of his freshman and sophomore year due to injuries.
Now, for his junior season, all signs point to a healthy Zeller, hungry to revive a UNC hoops legacy that far missed its usual mark last season. Before last year, the Tar Heels had been to six straight NCAA tournaments and cut down the nets twice in three trips to the finals.
“We have to play as hard as we can,” Zeller said, on reviving the celebrated program. “We just have to come out and play with more pride and get after it more.”
Between Jan. 13 and Feb. 24 of last year, the Tar Heels went on a 2-12 skid that eliminated any hopes of North Carolina making the NCAA tournament. “We can’t have streaks like that,” he said.
How about guarding a player like Singler? Read the scouting report and do whatever you can, Zeller said. “Kyle’s a great player. He can come off screens; his shots are very quick. If you leave him open he’s going to be able to knock down shots. Then he can take you off the dribble. He’s a very well-rounded player. When you put a smaller player on him, he can post you up.” Zeller added that Singler creates a lot of mismatches with his versatility, but he is hopeful the Tar Heels will do a better job with him than they did last year. A healthy Zeller is a start.
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications
Jersey Number: 12
Height and Weight: 6’8”, 230 lbs
Points per game: 16
Points per game against
Singler considered entering the NBA after leading Duke to a national championship last year, earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors, but ultimately decided to return for his senior season.
Singler, who averaged 17 points per game last season, has started in every game for the Blue Devils since he arrived in Durham, 2000 miles from his home state of Oregon. His freshman year, Singler was the ACC Freshman of the Year. What makes Singler a match-up nightmare is his ability to score in the paint (he has a solid arsenal of post moves to make defenders miss) and his ability to score from deep (he was nearly 40 percent from behind the arc last season). With his balanced attack, Singler will join senior guard Nolan Smith as the Blue Devils seek to defend their fourth title in program history.
Although the two games against North Carolina on their regular season schedule are always significantly more hyped up, Singler said the Blue Devils try to look at them like any other game. “It depends on how the game is going,” Singler said. “We try to treat every team we compete against the same way. We don’t really try to make North Carolina bigger than any other game we play during the season. But like I said, it just depends on how the game is going.”
Photo courtesy of Duke Photography
JON LEUER VS. DELVON ROE
Jersey Number: 30
Height and Weight: 6’10”, 228 lbs
Points per game: 8.5
Points per game against rival: 7
Leuer is everything you think of when you imagine Badger hoops. A big contributor to Bo Ryan’s team last season, Leuer continued to prove himself as an inside-and-out big man.
He has an array of post moves and a soft jumper from anywhere on the court including behind the arc, where he shot 39 percent last season. He also led the Badgers in rebounds per game (5.8) and points per game (15).
Coaches call him a match-up nightmare because of his quickness off the dribble for a player his size. Because of this quickness, Leuer can maneuver around defenders easily for a put-back dunk or tip-in.
Like Singler advised, Leuer said you have to prepare for and play conference games like they are any other game. “In Big Ten games it often comes down to who is hungry and who can bring more intensity.”
Photo courtesy of UW Athletic Communications
School: Michigan State
Jersey Number: 10
Height and Weight: 6’8”, 225 lbs
Points per game: 6
Points per game against rival: 4
Two Final Fours in two years? Not a bad start to a college career. Two ailing knees? That’s where it gets frustrating.
Roe, a limitlessly talented forward, fought through two full seasons on surgically repaired knees, but has recently said he feels 100 percent healthy, as good as he did in high school.
Now, with departed forward Raymar Morgan playing professional ball, Roe will play a bigger role for the Spartans, hoping to replicate the NCAA tournament magic he saw from his first two seasons. When you think Big Ten basketball, you’d be remiss to leave out Michigan State.
Photo courtesy of UW Athletic Communications
BRAD WANAMAKER VS. DARRYL BRYANT
School: University of Pittsburgh
Jersey Number: 22
Height and Weight: 6’4”, 210 lbs
Points per game: 7
Points per game against
Wanamaker spent his first season at Pitt learning from veteran point guard Levance Fields, but received more playing time his sophomore year.
Last season, Wanamaker started every game and more than doubled his scoring average from the previous season, dropping 12 points per game in the 2009-2010 season. In the “Backyard Brawl” against West Virginia last year, Wanamaker exploded for a career-high 24 points, dishing out 10 assists along the way.
Growing consistently over the years, the Philadelphia native has been pegged as one of the players to watch in the Big East this season, along with rival Darryl Bryant of West Virginia.
Photo courtesy of University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department
School: West Virginia University
Jersey Number: 25
Height and Weight: 6’2”, 200 lbs
Points Per Game: 9.6
Points Per Game against
Darryl Bryant has some big shoes to fill this year. Luckily, his broken foot that kept him out of the Final Four last year is completely healed. Bryant said that watching from the sidelines wasn’t easy. “It was tough for me because that’s something you grew up watching as a kid and you just want to get there so bad,” Bryant said. “I finally got there with my team and now I can’t even play because of my foot. It’s like a bad taste in my mouth, really, because we got there and we didn’t win.”
Da’Sean Butler and Devin Ebanks are in the NBA and, with their departure, West Virginia will need to make up nearly 30 points of offense this year. Bryant said West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins will rely on a three-guard backcourt as the Mountaineers try to repeat past successes and get back to the Final Four.
As far as rival Pitt, Bryant said he gets more pumped for conference games. But Bryant, a year younger than Brad Wanamaker, said getting the scouting report early helps him prepare for rival games. “[Wanamaker] made huge progress. He had a great game against us…He’s a mean scorer on that Pitt team and he’s a senior leader now.”
Photo courtesy of West Virginia University Athletic Department
Main Image courtesy of worldphoto360.com