For great basketball players in the state of Tennessee, there are only two teams to look at when signing — the Memphis Tigers and the Tennessee Volunteers (Sorry, Vanderbilt). The past few years these games have gone to overtime or been won by very little margins. This rivalry is important, not only for bragging rights or another impressive win for the NCAA resume, but for gaining the recognition of recruits in the area.
Last year, five star prospect, and potential All-American, Jarnell Stokes chose the University of Tennessee over his home town Memphis early in the season and graduated early, joining Tennessee, playing his first NCAA game a week later, and aiding in a last ditch attempt to make it to the NCAA tournament by the Volunteers, which culminated in a 2nd seed in the NIT. Memphis lost a few close games towards the end of the year, what could Stokes talent have done for the Tigers?
The city of Memphis is one of the most basketball talent rich areas in the entire country. Whichever of these two schools can gain a monopoly on recruiting the most talented players from this area, will start winning national championships. Memphis wants to get out of the shadow that Jon Calipari left and prove that they can win an NCAA championship without him and Tennessee wants to prove that it is much more than just a dangerous underdog to Florida and Kentucky in the SEC.
January 4th these two teams face off in what could be the most important match-up in January. Both teams have the talent go into this game undefeated. Tennessee could be in the top ten (If it can defeat a talented North Carolina State team in the preseason tournament, as well as get past Georgetown, Xavier, and Virginia). While Memphis has an opportunity to be at number one (The Tigers can play Duke, Missouri, Louisville, VCU, and Minnesota in its preseason outing and will play Louisville, possibly a second time, before the game against Tennessee).
Whichever team wins this match-up goes into conference play with an all-but-assured birth in the 2013 NCAA tournament, assuming neither falls apart and loses multiple games to below average teams.
Memphis vs. Tennessee is always a must-watch game because of how hard both teams fight for the win. But this year, it will be for much more than that. Both teams are darkhorses to make runs deep into the NCAA tournament; a victory on January 4th would set the tone for an amazing season.