Whether or not fists were “balled-up” last season, it is undeniable that the relationship between Memphis and U.T. has been strained for the past twelve months. There are plenty of storylines that are surrounding this game. Furthermore, I am sure that tensions will be running high on the court, in the stands, and on couches across the state. While we are all familiar with the institution formerly known as Memphis State, let’s look at some of the program’s details and (try to) take an objective look at this weekend’s match-up.
The School Out West
School: University of Memphis
Location: Memphis, Tennessee
Coach: Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway (2nd season)
2019-2020 Record: 8-1
Notable Alumnus: Memphis graduate Fred Thompson was a Tennessee State Senator for nearly a decade in the mid-90’s and early 2000’s. He was also a presidential candidate in 2008. The reason I picked this esteemed man is not because of any of his political or lifetime accomplishments, but a reason a little more sentimental. Outside of the political arena, Senator Thompson also was an actor. While he was in films such as The Hunt for Red October and Die Hard 2, I will forever remember him being my Grandfather’s favorite fictional District Attorney Arthur Branch in various adaptations of the series Law & Order. My grandfather would come over to my house often when I was younger, and anytime he was there and the Senator was on the television, it got real quite in the Robertson house.
The Tigers’ Stripes
There is an extreme amount of talent on Hardaway’s second-year squad, with most of it being made up of freshmen. The 2019 Memphis recruiting class was ranked number one nationally by 247, and featured 2 5-star players, and 5 4-star players.
Prized 7’0” 210lbs. Center James Wiseman headlined the class, and did participate in 3 games (against South Carolina State, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Oregon). In those three games, he looked every bit of the player he was thought to be. At the time, Wiseman was averaging 19.6 points and 10.6 boards per game. However, it was later discovered that Wiseman and his family were financially aided by Tigers’ coach Penny Hardaway (moving expenses). As a result, Wiseman will be sitting out until mid-January.
Wiseman’s absence doesn’t mean that Memphis is any sort of joke. While it makes them slightly less intimidating on paper, players like Precious Achiuwa, Boogie Ellis, D.J. Jeffries, and Alex Lomax are all capable of dropping 20+ and contributing at their position at an extremely high level. Currently, the Tigers are 8-1 and ranked number 13 in the country, with their lone loss coming in game number 3 against the Oregon Ducks. While the Ducks have been the best team the Tigers have faced thus far, 4 of their last 5 games have been decided by 10 points or fewer to far less talented teams.
A Snapshot of the Vols
The number 19 ranked Vols are 7-1, but still trying to figure things out as far as team-identity goes. While we are seeing players like Yves Pons and John Fulkerson look much better than they have in seasons past, as well as new faces like Josiah-Jordan James and Olivier Nkamhoua come out in their freshman seasons and contribute, we are seeing some careless play by team leader Lamonte Turner. That careless play is being compounded upon by poor shooting. I love Lamonte Turner and what he means and has meant for the Vols over the past 3+ seasons, but it is no secret he is currently in a slump. The Vols could really use him at his best against our most important non-conference foe, but also as we are quickly approaching the SEC schedule.
While Turner is looking to right the ship, fellow backcourt senior Jordan Bowden has remained solid averaging 14 points and 5 boards thus far. Fulkerson, Pons, and Nkamhoua have come together to provide consistent, slightly above average frontcourt play. Tennessee plays good defense, as we would expect of a Rick Barnes coached Vols squad, and I look for that to really help us against Memphis.
This game is tough for me to get a good feel for. Part of the reason for that is because I have no idea what kind of coach Penny Hardaway is. Personally, I don’t believe he is a good X’s and O’s guy. He does motivate his players and has already shown that he can assemble quite the crop of talent- a lot like a former Tiger’s coach the Vols are familiar with.
Another reason for my uncertainty is that I do not know which version of Lamonte Turner we will see on Saturday. If Turner is playing his best basketball with scoring and distributing and taking great care of the ball, we will win.
The game is in Knoxville, which certainly aids the Vols. However we went “Walking in Memphis” last season and hung 100 on the Tigers. They are out to even the series.
Here is what my prediction comes down to; Memphis has had 4 different players have 20+ point games, and 6 score over 15 points in a single contest (and that isn’t factoring in Wiseman). The Vols only have 2 players to record 20-point nights this season, with 4 having at least one 15-point outing. While I think our defense will keep the game close, I think we are simply outscored. I am looking for Precious Achuiwa to make some big time noise down-low. Also, don’t be surprised if Boogie Ellis and Alex Lomax are able to get some production scoring and assisting, especially if Tennessee continues to not take care of the ball and the Tigers get out in transition. With all of that being said, I will stick with preseason prediction and say Memphis wins 68-60.
Our Tennessee Vols are 7-1 and still have a win or two likely before heading into the conference schedule. I more than hope I am wrong with this prediction. Not much would make me happier than ol’ Deacon Barnes knocking off Petty Penny again. Be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues on twitter for up-to-the-minute U.T. news @More_Issues, and listen to the Podcast! Landon and Caleb always bring the knowledge when they get together in the studio. As for me, I’m out! Tennessee takes on Cincy next Wednesday, so look for an article previewing that matchup. Until then, God Bless and Go Vols!
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