An hour before tip-off, the announcement was made at Bridgestone Arena. Tennessee-Memphis was canceled, despite the Volunteers already being on their way to the arena. Refunds would be issued to every fan in what was expected to be a packed venue, and no rescheduling was possible with conference play coming up quickly.
For the second year in a row — this time in much more dramatic fashion — Tennessee-Memphis was called off due to COVID. The cancellation was announced “due to COVID-19 protocols within the Memphis program.”
“I guess the way I understand it, Memphis had called our AD, Danny White, who was getting ready to come on the plane to come over,” Rick Barnes said when speaking to the media on Saturday. “Then obviously he called us right away. He called right away. We were on the bus.”
This was going to be the third meeting of a three-game series. Tennessee won at Memphis in 2018, and Memphis won in Knoxville in 2019. The neutral site meeting in Nashville was a particular vision from Rick Barnes, celebrating basketball inside of the state of Tennessee.
Instead, we got a March 2020 flashback of the SEC Tournament being canned right before Tennessee was set to face Alabama.
“Really, it is almost deja vu to two years ago when we walked in here for the SEC Tournament,” Barnes said. “We had walked off the bus and got back there and got to talking to the SEC at that point and the tournament had been canceled. We kind of had an inkling I think before we left over there for the tournament. But here we left at 9:25. We had just pulled out when we got the call. We got a call that it was a possibility. Then they confirmed.”
According to Grant Ramey of 247Sports, Memphis had an alumni event on Friday night, which could have been the source of the issue today.
This was a Memphis alumni event that the basketball team just appeared at Friday night, with others in the Memphis travel party. https://t.co/z4oXlNWET3— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) December 18, 2021
A clearly frustrated Rick Barnes sounded off about the cancelation today, citing the SEC’s newly installed rule for this season.
“The unknown is about over for us,” Barnes said. “We have an SEC rule. You have to play or forfeit. There is no if, ands or buts about it. I have great respect for one of my former assistants, Rob Lanier. A couple weeks ago they got hit with the COVID and they had to go to Rhode Island and play. He took his team up there. It was a non-league game and he didn’t have to. He took his team up there with one starter, three rotational guys and everyone else was guys that hadn’t played. They played. I can assure you when the SEC rolls around, this problem happens, guys are going to find a way to play.”
So how about that? We added another chapter to the Barnes-Hardaway rivalry today after all without even playing a game. Will the two get a chance to meet again next season or beyond? That remains an unknown at this point.
Tennessee’s next game will come on Wednesday at home against No. 8 Arizona.