Is there a future for Tennessee basketball vs. Memphis? Tigers, Vols sound off on possibilities
Olivier Nkamhoua only played 12 minutes against Memphis in 2019.
It was plenty for the Tennessee basketball forward to fall in love with the cross-state rivalry.
“It excites me every time we get to play them,” Nkamhoua said. “This is only my second time. I was excited the first time. I am very excited this time, too.”
It also could be the last time Nkamhoua, a junior, faces the Tigers. As No. 18 Tennessee (8-2) and Memphis (6-4) prepare to clash at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN2), the lingering question is when will the next matchup be?
SCOUTING REPORT: Tennessee vs. Memphis: Scouting report, score prediction
The Vols and Tigers don’t have any games scheduled beyond Saturday — the third and final meeting in a three-game series. Conversations about future matchups are ongoing, decision-makers within both athletics departments indicated.
“There’s certainly nothing on the books yet,” Memphis athletics director Laird Veatch said. “But we would absolutely be excited to do that and continue it.”
Is playing in Nashville the central piece?
Vols coach Rick Barnes had big plans when Tennessee and Memphis agreed to the three-game series in March 2018. Barnes liked the home-and-home matchup, but he envisioned the Nashville meeting turning into “some kind of jamboree or extravaganza” to promote basketball in the state of Tennessee.
That did not transpire, but Nashville remains central in discussions about future matchups. Barnes said Tuesday he sees playing in Nashville as essential for the Vols.
“We know we’ve got to be in Nashville,” Barnes said. “That’s important. We’ve always said we think it’s important to play in-state teams. And everything is on the table.”
Barnes did not name Memphis specifically in regards to those "in-state teams,” but offered the comment in response to a question regarding the series.
Nashville has been a talking point, Veatch indicated. The Memphis AD has not been involved in the scheduling conversations, but the Memphis staff has given him positive feedback.
“They tell me there is some good, ongoing dialogue about that possibility in Nashville,” Veatch said.
'Good for the soul'
Barnes has been noncommittal in regard to playing Memphis, including after the 2019 matchup that Memphis won 51-47 at Thompson-Boling Arena. He also has not dismissed the possibility, while Tigers coach Penny Hardaway has been vocal in support of continuing the series.
“I think that the intrastate rivalry is healthy,” Hardaway said. “It’s good for the soul because it’s so many SEC fans around here and, obviously, Tiger fans in Memphis. I think it’s great to keep it going if we can.”
Tennessee won the first meeting 102-92 at Memphis’ FedExForum, which ended with drama. A late-game verbal confrontation between the Vols and Tigers led to Hardaway making postgame accusations about UT’s actions. Barnes responded with a quip the next week and a month of back-and-forth ensued.
The programs mutually agreed in December 2020 to delay the third game of the series to December 2021 due to the shared desire to play the game in a sold-out arena, which was not possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vols athletics director Danny White, who was hired in January 2021, voiced his support of Barnes' scheduling processes.
"Rick takes scheduling very seriously, and I share his enthusiasm about putting together challenging nonconference schedules that feature games our fanbase can get excited about," White said. "Our NET ratings over the years show that he and Mike Schwartz do a great job of building quality schedules that position us well for the postseason, and I'm confident that will continue."
Is football part of the deal for Memphis?
Veatch expressed an openness to get creative in scheduling future basketball matchups. But the Memphis AD didn’t stop there.
Veatch expressed a desire to play Tennessee in “any sport,” including football.
“We would be happy to get creative there, too, and have tried and would like to play in football,” Veatch said. “But, shoot, we’ll play them in any sport.”
The Vols and Tigers have not played in football since 2010. There is nothing scheduled between the programs in football either.
Tennessee has owned the football series against Memphis, holding a 22-1 edge. Memphis topped the Vols 21-17 in 1996 in Memphis. UT has won six straight, including back-to-back wins in a home-and-home in 2009 and 2019.
How does conference realignment affect Tennessee's decisions?
Barnes referenced scheduling conversations with former North Carolina coach Roy Williams and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo. Neither would commit due to shifts to 20-game conference schedules in the ACC and Big Ten.
Barnes pointed to the uncertainty around future SEC schedules as a potential obstacle with nonconference scheduling. The SEC is slated to add Oklahoma and Texas in 2025. Barnes wondered if that means the SEC would add conference games.
“There’s just so much we don’t know right now,” Barnes said.
White also voiced conference expansion as “a consideration as we look ahead.”
The SEC plays an 18-game conference schedule. The Vols had 13 nonconference games scheduled for the 2021-22 season, including four against preseason top-25 teams. Six of its nonconference games are against power-conference opponents.
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.
This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Will Tennessee basketball vs. Memphis schedule a game after this year?