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The 12th Greatest Basketball Program In The South: Memphis Tigers

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on February 12, 2008

Doc’s Note: Normally in this series about the 25 Greatest Basketball Programs in the South, I have the logos of the teams I write about. But because the University of Memphis won another National Championship in dance and I know some of them, I figured using this picture would give you readers something to think about when it comes to the basketball tradition in Memphis.

Matt’s Note: If it is successful, maybe the Top 12 of the 25 will be worthy of having dance team photos INSTEAD of team logos as we all know these logos for the most successful teams at the top (the Dukes, UNCs, etcetera…).

Memphis Tigers

Location: Memphis, Tennessee

Nickname: Tigers

Reason For Nickname: An old yell that started when the school was founded in 1912, it was not until 1939 when the school officially adopted the Tigers as its nickname.

Colors: Blue and Gray

Conference: Conference USA

Arena: FedEx Forum (built 2004, capacity 21,165 [for basketball])

Tiger Pride:The University of Memphis began playing basketball while it was known as West Tennessee Normal School in 1920 with Fredrick Grantham as its first head coach. Until Eugene Lambert arrived there in the 1950’s, basketball at the school was an afterthought. Memphis has appeared in 20 NCAA Tournaments, including two Final Fours in 1973 and 1985. They’ve also have one NIT Championship to their credit with one coming in 2002, Calipari’s second year at the helm.

Conference Championships: While UT and Vanderbilt were entrenched in the SEC wars, Memphis has played for much of its history as an Independent. But in the years that they’ve been part of a conference, most recently Conference USA, the school has had its share of conference championships. In the modern era, Memphis has won the Missouri Valley Conference twice, sharing it in 1972 and winning it outright in 1973. They’ve also won the Metro Conference title in 1982, 1984, and 1985 as well as the Great Midwest Cchampionship in 1995. Since joining Conference USA, they’ve won the conference four times in 1996, 2004, 2006, and 2007.

Coaching Legacy:In 88 years of basketball, the Tigers have been coached by greats such as Larry Finch, the hometown kid who led the Tigers to its greatest moment in 1973, Dana Kirk, who took the Tigers to the 1985 Final Four and later forced out in disgrace, Gene Bartow, who brought back Tiger basketball from the dead, and John Calipari, who is the middle of the best stretch in the history of the school with eight straight 20-win seasons.

Big Man On Campus:The school’s most famous player is Penny Hardaway, who was a babysitter of this columnist during his freshman year at the University. Hardaway led the Tigers to the 1992 Elite Eight where they would lose to the Cincinnati Bearcats and another NCAA Tournament appearance the following year where they would lose to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the first round. Other greats include Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams, David Vaughan, Cedric Henderson, Ronnie Robinson, Win Wilfong, Forrest Arnold, Keith Lee, Elliott Perry, Andre Turner, and my cousin, the late John Gunn.

Rivalries:For five decades, the Tigers had a longstanding rivalry with the University of Louisville, a rivalry that ended with the Cardinals’ departure to the Big East in 2005-06. Not only that, the Tigers had a heated rivalry in the 80’s and 90’s with the University of Cincinnati that also ended with them bolting to the Big East with Louisville. Today, the Tigers have a heated rivalry with the Tennessee Volunteers and the UAB Blazers, which gave the Tigers their last regular-season loss in conference play back in 2006.

Did You Know?: In the 20 years that my mother has worked for the University of Memphis, the Tigers have gone to the postseason 18 times and is working on their 19th postseason appearance in her 21 years at the school.


One Response to “The 12th Greatest Basketball Program In The South: Memphis Tigers”

  1. Very impressive “did you know” because I didn’t.


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