A longstanding in-state rivalry was renewed Monday when Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway and Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes announced their teams will play a three-game series, beginning in the 2018 season.
The Tigers and Volunteers played every year from 1989 to 2002 before the series was halted for four years. After the series resumed in 2006, the two squads played each other annually until their last meeting in 2013. The Daily Helmsman sports staff of reporters Christian Fowler, Patrick Graziosi, Caleb Hilliard, Abigail Warren and editor Jeremiah Graham gathered to discuss the news as well as a potential series against Kentucky.
1. What do you think of Tigers renewing their rivalry with the Vols next season?
Fowler: I think it is great for the Memphis program. This is an old rivalry that is long overdue on getting renewed. Also, with the recent success of the Vols basketball program, it could make for a great game.
Graham: This is great news that will be a huge boost to ticket sales. Speaking for myself, this was a rivalry that I grew up watching as a kid, so this will definitely be a trip down memory lane.
Graziosi: I think it’s a good move to help generate some excitement going into next season. The last time the Tigers played a non-conference top-10 team at home was when Buddy Hield and Oklahoma visited FedExForum on Nov. 17, 2015. This will certainly help boost waning season ticket sales.
Hilliard: Whenever Memphis sets up a series with an SEC program, it brings excitement. Tennessee against Memphis makes for a competitive atmosphere no matter the sport. The matchup also allows Memphis to have a chance to secure a quality win and increase their RPI rank in the coming seasons.
Warren: It’s good for the programs. A lot of these Tigers don’t know about the historic Louisville or UAB rivalries, but many of them know about Memphis and Tennessee.
2. What does this mean for the two fanbases?
Fowler: It should be fun for both fanbases to watch this classic Tennessee rivalry once again. It is also good for Memphis because it puts them back on the national scene against a good Vols team.
Graham: Tennessee fans generally think of Memphis fans as a “little brother,” so this will be a chance to show who really is top dog in the state. From a player’s perspective, many of Memphis’ and Tennessee’s players went up against each other as kids, so it will also be another chance for them to show who’s best.
Graziosi: For Tennessee and their fans, it gives them a chance to get in on the rich Memphis recruiting grounds. For this reason, past coaches such as John Calipari and Josh Pastner were wary of having Tennessee on the schedule. Nonetheless, Tennessee is now a quality opponent under Rick Barnes, and Penny Hardaway wants to load up the schedule with big-time games fans want to see. Memphis fans have generally wanted to play against the likes of UT, Ole Miss and Arkansas, and Penny has stated he is cognizant of what Memphis fans want.
Hilliard: The series will sell tickets in Knoxville and Memphis. The majority of fans from both fanbases will want to watch this series live and in person. Also, these two teams love to hate each other and the same goes for the team’s fans.
Warren: The two fanbases will likely travel for the game, and there should be a packed house at FedEx Forum. This will also be the first time in years the opposing team is represented, and of course the Tiger fans will show up too.
3. What do you think about Penny Hardaway talking to Kentucky head coach John Calipari about possibly doing a home-and-home series?
Fowler: I think it is a very progressive move by Hardaway. He came in immediately and went after the best competition, and that is telling of the kind of coach he will be.
Graham: Ever since Coach Cal left, there has always been a sour taste in Tiger fans’ mouths, especially when you consider Calipari’s loaded 2009 recruiting class of John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins likely coming to Memphis. If those two had joined, that could’ve been the best team this program has ever had. A potential matchup against Kentucky will be a chance for Memphis to extract a bit of revenge.
Graziosi: I think it is fantastic. Look, Calipari did break the city of Memphis’ heart when he took a recruiting class featuring Wall and Cousins to Kentucky while pillaging Memphis of everything including the snow cone machine, but that was ten years ago. It’s over and done with now. I got over it once that class lost to West Virginia in the Elite 8. Some people in this city still hold a grudge against Cal, and it is beyond time to let go. Penny is willing to take on all comers, and series against perennial powers like Kentucky are a huge plus for the University of Memphis in attendance and recruiting.
Hilliard: The potential series with Kentucky would add another layer to the coming seasons. Most Memphis fans still have a bad taste in their mouths when it comes to Calipari and Kentucky as a whole. Memphis fans could pack FedExForum if the series comes to fruition, making for an electric atmosphere.
Warren: I think it is too soon to try to play Kentucky, but it will be a huge game. Memphians as a whole don’t like Coach Cal. But like I said, I do not think this Memphis team is quite ready for Kentucky yet.
Will Coleman (0) goes up for the ball against Tennessee in 2011. Monday Memphis Head Coach Penny Hardaway and Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes announced the two teams will play a three-game series, starting in the 2018 season.