Renewing a Classic Rivalry: Memphis vs. Louisville in the HOF ShootoutPosted by rtmsf on June 1st, 2011
There are many, many things to love about college basketball, but one of the best parts of being a fan is to glance at your team’s schedule for the upcoming season and quickly locating the two, three or four ‘big’ games on the slate. The mind’s eye wanders with anticipation of a season filled with opportunities to lord over the fans of the schools one hates the most, whether longtime conference foe, annoying regional rival, or up-and-coming frenemy. Those ‘rivalry games’ on the schedule are often just as intense and in some cases more important than the other 30+ games combined — just ask Carolina fans how important it is that the Heels beat Duke, or Tennessee fans how badly they want the Vols to beat Kentucky. In the absence of any other major successes in a given season, that one victory can carry the day for an entire fanbase through the offseason.
Some of the very best such rivalries in the game today involve pre-conference matchups between regional rivals where the fanbases simply do not care for one another. Kentucky-Indiana. Wisconsin-Marquette. Missouri-Illinois. Gonzaga-Washington. Cincinnati-Xavier. BYU-Utah State. Any Big Five game. A few others have either been lost to the dustbins of history for any number of reasons, or never got started to begin with. Maryland-Georgetown. Connecticut-UMass. Ohio State-Cincinnati. Memphis-Louisville. Ah yes, that one. With today’s announcement that the former MVC/Metro/Great Midwest/Conference USA powerhouses will meet this coming December as part of the Basketball Hall of Fame Shootout, one of the grand old rivalries of the sport will soon resurrect from the dead.
The game, on December 17 at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, will represent the first of a two-year home-and-home series that we hope the schools have enough sense to continue. They have not played since the Cardinals left CUSA for the Big East in 2005, the longest such drought in nearly fifty years between the two schools; and while the press releases all state that Louisville owns the all-time record against Memphis, 51-34, the insider nugget is that the two schools are deadlocked at 24-24 since the 1980-81 season. In the modern era, this rivalry has been one of the most competitive in the entire landscape of college basketball, and the two fanbases are already juiced for the opportunity to see their old enemies again.
What makes this even more interesting is that both schools are returning largely intact rosters from teams that are projected to be top 25 caliber next season. Louisville, coming off a #4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a surprising third-place finish in the Big East, returns the core of its team including senior Kyle Kuric, juniors Peyton Siva and Rakeem Buckles, and a talented incoming freshman class led by Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware. The very young Memphis Tigers struggled for much of last season, but came on strong at the end, winning the CUSA championship and pushing #5 seed Arizona to the brink in the NCAAs before falling. Josh Pastner returns most of his team as well, including a potentially spectacular sophomore backcourt of Joe Jackson, Will Barton and Tarik Black to go along with senior Wesley Witherspoon inside.
While Kentucky-UNC in early December (presumably) will be the marquee non-conference game of the entire 2011-12 season, this one won’t be a bad second helping. Sigh… we’re only past Memorial Day, but college basketball can’t get back in action soon enough.