Tennessee basketball is set to renew its yearly rivalry with the Memphis Tigers. History shows that will be huge for the Volunteers’ recruiting.
It’s a series that Josh Pastner cowardly ran from on the excuse that it hurts recruiting. But Tennessee basketball is about to begin playing the University of Memphis again on a yearly basis, and that’s going to be huge for both the Vols…and the Tigers.
If you don’t think that this rivalry has a huge impact on recruiting, go look at the peak of the Bruce Pearl John Calipari years when they were at Tennessee and Memphis respectively. Yes, Calipari was getting the elite one-and-dones like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans.
However, Pearl had Tennessee basketball recruiting at an unprecedented level too. Here’s all you need to know: the series was renewed during Pearl’s first year, 2006. By the next offseason, the Vols had secured a Top 15 class with two five-stars and a four-star.
The year after that was when the Tigers secured Rose. And in 2008, both schools had Top 15 classes. While Memphis got Evans, the Vols did get Scottie Hopson.
In fact, between the time the series resumed in 2006 until Pastner ended it in the 2013-2014 season, only one time did either school fail to secure at least one four-star recruit in any class. That one time was Tennessee its first year under Cuonzo Martin, when the untimely firing of Pearl put the program in flux.
But guess what happened right after Pastner ended the series. Tennessee secured zero four-stars for three straight years, and Memphis has just one in its last two recruiting classes.
There’s a reason this is the case. When the Vols and Tigers play, it increases the brand of basketball across the state. Tennessee has always been a state with solid basketball talent. Generally, there is an elite level of talent in Memphis alone for the Tigers to pick from and then enough talent across the rest of the state for the Vols.
The rivalry generates buzz among every elite high school recruit. The No. 2 vs. No. 1 game in 2008 is arguably one of the peak moments in the history of Tennessee sports. Every year, this was a match-up that went on national television.
As a result, it generated enough buzz around the state to make better recruits stay at home. Then that made both schools good, generating enough national buzz to bring top-notch talent across the country to the state.
You could say it was due to the Pearl-Calipari rivalry. But that wouldn’t make sense when you consider the fact that afterward, Pastner still got Top 10 recruiting classes while Martin secured two five-star commitments in three years.
Face it, both schools need this rivalry, which is why it’s great that it’s returning. It may help Tennessee basketball more, but it certainly helps the Tigers.
Rick Barnes vs. Penny Hardaway is not going to be the clown show that was once Pearl vs. Calipari. But it will still generate lots of buzz. And in the process, the Vols and Tigers may stop the college basketball world in another upcoming match-up.