Penny Hardaway wearing glasses

Penny Hardaway looks on during the game against Little Rock on Nov. 20, 2019. 

Another chapter in the saga will be written Saturday when Penny Hardaway and the Memphis Tigers travel to Knoxville to take on Tennessee for the second of a three-game series that will culminate in Nashville next season.

A year ago, Hardaway obviously raised some eyebrows after he was critical of Vols coach Rick Barnes, who had typically been well-regarded in college basketball. This time around, with a new-look Memphis roster and Admiral Schofield, Jordan Bone and Grant Williams all now in the NBA, it figures to be an intense, must-see matchup between two top-20 teams.  

In their last game, a 65-57 road win at UAB, Memphis fell behind by as much as 20 before rallying back late to pick up their sixth straight victory. While it certainly is an encouraging sign that the young guys were able to keep their composure and grind their way back into it in a hostile environment, Hardaway’s bunch cannot afford a similar start inside Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee has won 30 consecutive games at home behind a consistently raucous crowd that’ll surely be eager to try to make it 31 against an in-state rival.  

It is a given that the absence of James Wiseman will hurt. However, the broken hand that will sideline Lester Quinones may be just as significant. Prior to his injury, the freshman from Brentwood, New York was playing the most minutes of anyone and consistently made hustle-plays, fought for 50/50 balls and brought energy every time he touched the floor.

In a game that may simply come down to who wants it more, the Tigers will need somebody to step up and provide a spark, whether it be a starter or someone from the bench.  

In 2018, it was the play of forwards Schofield and Williams that propelled the Vols to the 102-92 win at FedExForum. Now, with both in the NBA, it’ll be the veteran guard tandem of Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden that will be key to the Vols’ success.

Their offense, which features four players averaging at least 10 points per game, will rely on a balanced attack to score on a Memphis defense that usually focuses on shutting down the opposition’s top option. They’ll have their hands full Saturday.  

For Memphis to win this game, there may not be a more important matchup than how Tennessee decides to guard Precious Achiuwa. It’s no secret that he excels in drawing fouls and getting to the rim, but it’s crucial that he knocks down his free throws.

Expect the Vols to send Achiuwa to the line early and often to earn his points. He’s shown he’s capable of taking over a game by overwhelming with his physicality. The duo of John Fulkerson and Yves Pons will probably draw the matchup for UT, so if they can make Achiuwa uncomfortable it’ll be difficult for Memphis to get into much of a flow offensively.  

This game has been circled on the calendar for Memphis fans for quite some time. They won’t get much tougher for Hardaway’s team.

Amidst an NCAA controversy and an unfortunate hand injury, facing a veteran team in an intense environment, Memphis has a great opportunity to make a statement to the country about who they are.  

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