Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway shouts out instructions during the Tigers’ game against Wichita in early March. (Photo: Warren Roseborough)
Terry Davis

The University of Memphis basketball team has been dealing with the pandemic longer than any other sport.

The Tigers’ season was cut short in mid-March as they were about to play their first game in the American Athletic Conference basketball tournament.

Seven months later, the COVID-19 pandemic still is raging (killing some 220,000 people nationwide and averaging some 55,000 new inflections daily) and the conference has developed protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible.

There has been a different approach as the new season begins. Normally, the basketball schedule would have been released, allowing fans to plan on which games they would want to attend.

Memphis, for example, was scheduled to play in the Battle for the Atlantis tournament scheduled during the Thanksgiving holiday.

That tournament was moved to South Dakota and is now called The Crossover tournament.

Duke was scheduled to be a part of that tournament, but the Blue Devils decided not to participate. The Dayton Flyers replaced Duke.

Memphis’ first game of the season will occur in this tournament, opening play with Ohio State on Nov. 25.

Asked about the game as a start to the season, head coach Penny Hardaway said, “The players are really excited to have Ohio State out of the gate.

“I do not remember a time when we played an opponent of that level to start the season, ever. I remember playing DePaul to open the Pyramid. I can’t remember Cal’s (John Calipari) or Josh’s (Pastner) teams playing a big game for the very first game of the season.”


 There has not been an update on when the Tigers’ schedule will be released. Most likely, the game against the Tennessee Volunteers that was set to be played in Nashville this year may be pushed to next season.

The game against Alabama that was to be played in Atlanta may be cancelled.

Memphis also is waiting for the Memphis Grizzlies to select the dates they want to play at the FedExForum. Once those have been selected, the Tigers can complete the dates and times for all games.

The AAC increased the number of league games from 18 to 20. Memphis is only allowed 27 games this season. As a result, the number of out-of-conference games is limited this season.

The games in the Crossover Classic only count as one game per the NCAA.

There will be no exhibitions or scrimmages this season.

Memphis will play three games in The Crossover tournament, which gives the Tigers a chance to build the team’s post-season resume.

‘The Big Dance’

Memphis is looking to make it to the NCAA tournament, aka “The Big Dance.” Memphis still is awaiting word on if there will be any punishment for playing James Wiseman last season.

Memphis also is waiting word on the eligibility of DeAndre Williams. Williams is the transfer from Evansville and has requested to play this season. There is no timeline for either decision from the NCAA.


Last season, Boogie Ellis and his fellow Tigers finished as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Head coach Penny Hardaway hopes to improve on those defensive stats en route to the NCAA Tournament. (Photo: Terry Davis)

“I want Memphis to compete for a championship,” Hardaway said.

The last couple of years the Tigers have finished fifth in the AAC standings.

Last season, Memphis finished as one of the best defensive teams in the country. Hardaway hopes to improve on those defensive stats.

Memphis still has an open coaching position with the departure of Mike Miller. Hardaway has not filled that position for a couple of reasons.

The first is because of the current financial position of the university, which has taken a fiscal hit because of the virus. There have been pay cuts and layoffs as a result.

Second, he wants to get the right person.

Memphis had the youngest team in the nation last season. With the addition of Landers Nolley, Williams and the experience that the freshmen received, the expectation is for fewer mistakes. If so, should equate to more wins and a deep run in the NCAA tournament.