One of Tennessee’s biggest games of the entire basketball season will tip-off on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling arena. It’s another early season test for the Volunteers, but this one comes with a little added spice.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that story by now. If not, just click here. If things get chippy on Saturday, you’ll understand why.
Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers will make the trip across the state to play Tennessee, looking to get revenge for last year’s loss at home. The Vols, lead by Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield, controlled that game from start to finish.
But Tennessee has lost four starters from last year’s team and Memphis has added buckets to talent to their roster — even though two key players won’t be able to participate for the Tigers.
Hardaway’s team will be without No. 1 overall recruit James Wiseman against Tennessee. The 7-1 future NBA top pick is in the midst of a suspension that will keep him out of action until January. The NCAA ruled Wiseman ineligible after they found that Hardaway paid for Wiseman to move to Nashville during his high school years. That’s was ruled a violation, with the NCAA considering Hardaway was a booster of the program at the time.
Memphis will also be without Lester Quinones, a four-star freshman who ranked 58th in the 2019 class. Quinones averaged over ten points per game before breaking his hand a couple of weeks ago.
Left to lead the Tigers are forwards Precious Achiuwa and D.J. Jeffries. They’re the two leading scorers with Wiseman on the bench, putting up 13.9 and 12 points per game, respectively. Both were stars of the 2019 class, which Penny has used to rebuild Memphis quickly into a contender.
Yves Pons and Johnson Fulkerson will have their hands full in the post on Saturday.
“I think, again, Penny has done a terrific job,” Barnes said this week. “He’s got a lot of young players obviously that are very talented. I think he’s done a great job coaching those guys because it’s not easy when you have to start with as many young players as he’s had.”
Memphis returned two key players from last year’s team in Alex Lomas and Tyler Harris. Both guys have seen an uptick in usage with Quinones on the shelf.
“They’re a group of guys that play hard,” Barnes continued. “They’re going to make you handle the ball. They do a lot of good things. You look at their schedule, their wins, it tells you that he’s done a great job with them.”
Memphis played a highly ranked Oregon team early in the season with Wiseman on the floor. The Tigers dropped that game 82-74, their lone loss of the year. Memphis came back strong with wins over Ole Miss and N.C. State in competitive games.
Tennessee has already been through a few early tests of their own, beating Washington and VCU, but falling to Florida State. Memphis will serve as their 4th top 25 matchup of this young season.
The Volunteers will be tested with elite talent at just about every position from Memphis, but their advantage lies in a couple of senior guards. Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner have seen it all for Tennessee over the past few seasons in Knoxville. From a rebuilding year, to a No. 1 ranking, to a transition year — Bowden and Turner are battle tested and should give Barnes an advantage on Saturday afternoon.
KenPom likes Tennessee in this matchup. The college basketball ratings system has Tennessee as the 21st ranked team in the nation, while Memphis sits at 35th, down two key players. We’ll see what Vegas thinks later in the week.
This is one of the most intense matchups that you’ll ever see in college basketball. And there’s good news — there’s still affordable tickets left. On Stubhub, there’s a variety of seats left, starting at under $20. If you’ve planning on going to a game this year, this is THE one to attend.
Tip-off is set for 3 p.m. ET time in Knoxville on Saturday, December 14th.