Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Yankees-Red Sox, Lakers-Celtics, Coke vs. Pepsi, slugs versus salt, Memphis-Louisville. Okay, so maybe the Tigers rivalry with the Cardinals isn’t the greatest of all time, but for U of M fans, there’s no mistaking that Louisville is the school it most likes to beat. This will be the 86th meeting between the teams, the first of which occurred in 1949. The two schools have been in the same conference three times: the Missouri Valley, the Metro and Conference USA. And since Louisville abandoned C-USA for the Big East over six years ago, Tiger fans have been chomping at the bit for their team to once again share the floor with their favorite hated foe. The game will be televised nationally on CBS, the perfect stage on which to renew a rivalry. But the timing of this game for Memphis here isn’t perfect, and the supporters in blue might well have to be careful what they’ve wished for.
4th ranked Louisville comes into Saturday’s game with a 9-0 record, its best start in 15 years, and they have collected 17 straight home victories. The Cardinals boast the nation’s 6th ranked defense in terms of field goal percentage, not a good sign for a Memphis team that has struggled to find itself in the half-court offense and has also been unable to get out on the break due to lack of rebounding. The Tigers big men have been virtually invisible throughout the season, and they face a tough task as 6’ 11” Louisville center Gorgui Dieng is averaging almost 10 points and 9 rebounds per game and 6’ 6”, 250 pound forward Chane Behana boasts marks of over 9 points and 8 boards per contest.
The last time Memphis faced an opponent from Kentucky with a 9-0 record, they struggled throughout most of the game, staging a furious rally at the end that saw some them come up just short. And that was against Murray State, an Ohio Valley Conference school, and the game was at home. If the Tigers hope to even stay in the game against a top ranked Big East team on the road, they’ll have to show the intensity they displayed at the end of their last contest from the onset. Otherwise, Saturday, the KFC Yum Center will have Cardinal fans everywhere licking their lips.
Michael Jones is the Tiger basketball beat writer for MemphiSport. You can follow him via Twitter @MemphisMichaelJ.
Photo by Justin Ford