Northern Kentucky and Wright State: Rivalry on I-75

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The semifinals of the 2022 Horizon League tournament have found their victors, and its a group that the Horizon has become very familiar with in the past few years: Northern Kentucky and Wright State. These schools have been the kings of the conference in recent years, and it’s supported by the statistics.

Longtime Horizon stalwart Wright State has been consistently wreaking havoc on the conference since the early 2010s, where Donlon and Nagy have combined to give the program impressive stretches of conference dominance. Wright State has been a consistent conference champion, claimed the title twice in 2007 and 2018, and has been the runner up for the tournament four times in the past ten years.

Northern Kentucky, in contrast, has known success since their introduction to the league. NKU entered the league in the 2015-2016 season, the one season where they remained ineligible for NCAA postseason play, then took advantage of the chaos of the 2017 tournament to go dancing after defeating #10 Milwaukee in their very first year of eligibility. Following Valparaiso’s exit, NKU continued to dominate and followed up that appearance with two more NCAA tournament appearances in 2019 and 2020*.

Wright State has the advantage in conference play with an 8-6 record, but NKU has taken the win in both head-to-head postseason appearances, one of which was the conference title game in 2019 where they met as the top two seeds.

But that’s not where this rivalry comes into play. Wright State and NKU became rivals the second they stepped into the league, the two schools close proximity leading to tense atmospheres in their stadiums whenever the other came into town. The short hour drive down I-75 means that any student with a desire to cause mayhem can take the trip to cheer on their own team, and that always leads to an insane atmosphere. I know I personally get a chuckle from watching the two student sections duke it out on Twitter.

Speaking as a long time fan of the Raiders, the games the two bring were exciting and completely packed the Nutter Center full of students before COVID wracked the world. I have fond memories of the giant, deafening crowd of the home game in 2020 and the excitement we all had over the Raider’s domination of the Norse.

Wright State had been without a close geographic rival since Butler left the conference in 2011, and while Valparaiso or Dayton (bring back the Gem City Jam you cowards) may have been seen as the bigger rival in the eyes of some Raiders, NKU’s entrance and competitiveness with the Raiders has left little room for doubt. These two schools stand opposed with each other near the top, and the upcoming title game will surely be a sight to see as the two schools no doubt fill Farmers Coliseum.

The stakes are the same from 2019: a ticket to the dance. Will NKU take another trip to make up for the lost one in 2020, or will Wright State even up the number of titles the two share? I’ll be there to see it either way.

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