Memphis is called the Bluff City because the city is built on a very large hill. However, Memphis’ unofficial nickname is “Hoop City”, because of the rich and long basketball history (Grizzlies play at home at the same time). When the University of Memphis Tigers travel to Knoxville this Friday night to face the Tennessee Volunteers there will be more on the line than bragging rights.
The Tigers (9-3) need to take advantage of every opportunity to get any win outside of Conference USA. The Volunteers are in a better conference, but Memphis is more respected nationally. The Vols have struggled at times offensively this season. The Vols lost to Georgetown 37-36 and their best win has been over Wichita State at home.
UT has won four games in a row. The Tigers have won three games straight games after the tough loss to Louisville a couple of weeks ago. This will be the last marquee game for both teams before they enter conference play. The Vols leads the overall series 14-10, but the Tigers have won the last two games in the series.
Five reasons why the Tigers vs. Volunteers game is important to both teams:
March Madness. A quality out-of-conference opponent is always good to have on your resume when the committee starts to evaluate your body of work. Good wins could get you a better seed and even a better path to the Final Four. The Southeastern Conference will be a higher ranked conference this year thanks to the addition of Missouri. This will actually help the Tigers.
Controlling the Memphis recruits. The winning team will have a leg up in the very fertile Memphis high school recruiting scene. The Tigers started a game with all Memphis high school players earlier this year. The Volunteers have one Memphian on the team in Jarnell Stokes. Stokes enrolled in Tennessee last winter after finishing high school early.
Controlling the tempo. The Tigers and the Vols would like to force their style of play for the game. The Tigers perimeter defense has to be better against to Vols or the energy in the building will overwhelm the Tigers. The Tigers are clearing a bigger and more athletic team in the post and can control the game, by controlling the boards and scoring on the inside often.
Making that coaching seat a little cooler. It is not a secret that the natives in Memphis are getting restless with results of coach Josh Pastner. Pastner can help pacify his critics by defeating the hated Vols. Second year coach Cuonzo Martin is not on the hot seat, but the Vols hate to lose to the Tigers in any sport.
Players to watch. Stokes is clearly the best player the Vols have. Stokes is second in scoring with 11.4 points per game and leads the team in rebounding with 7.4 rebounds a game. Trea Golden leads the Vols in scoring with 12.5 points. Antonio Barton has been playing well the last few games off of the bench. Joe Jackson will always be the key to the Tigers success. He has to play with intensity and consistency for 40 minutes.
Terry Davis is a regular contributor for MemphiSport. Follow him @Terryd515.