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Can Memphis regain momentum going into conference play?

Photo courtesy of GoTigersGo.

When things started to go in the right direction for the Memphis Tigers, here comes the dreaded COVID-19 factor. Last Tuesday, the Tigers were coming off an impressive upset over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Their next game was supposed to be at a neutral site in Nashville, Tennessee, against hated rival, the Tennessee Volunteers. Before tip-off at the Bridgestone Arena, two players within the Tigers program tested positive for the coronavirus. Due to the positive tests, the team was down to only four available players for last Saturday’s game.

As a result of what transpired, the game with Tennessee was canceled. Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway was adamant about the game with Tennessee being rescheduled. “For the fans sake, it’s such a huge game,” he said. “You just can’t throw it away. I think we need to find a way to get it done.” On the other hand, Vols head coach Rick Barnes wasn’t too reluctant to reschedule against Memphis. “No, there’s no way we could do it,” Barnes said.

A win over two of the SEC’s best programs would have looked good on the Tigers resume regarding the NCAA tournament selection committee. The committee puts a considerable emphasis on wins outside of the conference, especially against ranked opponents. At the time of the loss, Alabama was ranked at No.6. The win over Alabama will pay huge dividends down the road for Memphis, but the margin for error will remain razor-thin as conference play approaches.

Victories over both Alabama and Tennessee would give Memphis an edge over other programs that could be on the bubble fighting for an NCAA tournament berth. Now that COVID has pretty much eliminated out of conference games for the Tigers, AAC play is their last chance to impress the selection committee. Tuesday Morning, the Tigers social media team released a statement on the program’s current status.

The Tigers’ first AAC opponent will be against the Tulane Green Wave on December 29 at FedEx Forum. However, Tulane has not been on the court since December 7 due to a COVID outbreak on the team. So far, the season for Memphis is having a similar effect from the previous years under Hardaway.

The virus had halted basketball activities last season, and it disrupted the momentum of how the year would have played out for the team. As seen in other team sports during the pandemic, health and availability are critical factors in winning a championship. The virus has pushed head coaches to pay close attention to their depth chart. Based on the standings in the AAC, the conference looks to be very competitive this season.

However, once the competition begins, those records could reflect something that seems entirely different. Despite not having both wins over Alabama and Tennessee on their resume, Memphis needs to prepare for what is on the horizon. The combination of having veteran players along with high-end talent should be more than enough for the team to regain its momentum once AAC competition begins.

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