It’s been nearly six full years since Memphis and Tennessee met on the basketball court. That rivalry will finally be renewed on Saturday at the FedEx Forum. It’s a perfect way to kick off a new era for Memphis, which now has former Tiger standout Penny Hardaway steering the ship.
The Memphis basketball program slowly eroded after the departure of John Calipari, eventually bottoming out under Tubby Smith. Belief and excitement has been restored over the offseason, however. Penny has already earned a commitment from the No. 1 player in next year’s recruiting class in James Wiseman, along with another from top 50 player DJ Jeffries. If Hardaway keeps that up, Memphis will be back in no time.
That excitement and buzz around the program has led to a sellout this weekend with the No. 3 Tennessee Volunteers coming to town. The Noon eastern tip-off will be in front of a packed FedEx Forum. That’s a far cry from what Memphis experienced last season as attendance numbers hit a 35 year low.
The Tigers are 5-4 this year, but have faced a challenging non-conference schedule so far. Tennessee will be their toughest test to date by far, however.
Tennessee and Memphis will play three times in the next three years, with Memphis returning the favor and heading to Knoxville next year. The two schools will meet in Nashville in 2020, something Rick Barnes says he hopes will become the norm going forward.
Hopefully this game becomes a fixture on the schedule once again. There’s no reason these two in-state rivals shouldn’t be playing an annual game. You’ve probably got Josh Pastner to thank for the six year hiatus. Barnes says this series is something that he had been working on with Tubby Smith since Smith arrived at Memphis.
Let’s hope this series sticks, because both programs appear to be set to roll for years to come.