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VOL. 131 | NO. 160 | Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bland Home Schedule, Thin Roster Mark Tubby Smith’s Debut as Tigers Coach

By Don Wade

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The University of Memphis men’s basketball team’s home non-conference schedule does not include a game with a marquee opponent or even with a fierce regional rival such as Tennessee. But the schedule does offer home games with the likes of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Savannah State, Monmouth and Incarnate Word.

All the obscure college basketball teams you’ve never seen before? Here’s your chance to start working your way through that list.

So, no, there’s not much buzz about a home non-conference slate absent any NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and with the SEC’s South Carolina Gamecocks as the closest thing to a big name. The Tigers will play at Oklahoma and Ole Miss, and meet Providence and either Iowa or Virginia in the Emerald Coast Classic in Niceville, Fla., but that’s not the same as having those games at FedExForum.

“We’ve been very careful and very selective because we could have filled the roster a long time ago with junior college players and transfers.”

–Tubby Smith
Memphis Tigers basketball coach

Coupled with the Tigers’ American Athletic Conference schedule, first-year coach Tubby Smith noted in a session with media on campus Tuesday, Aug. 9, that the Tigers would play 19 games against opponents in the Top 100 of the RPI – seven of those foes coming in nonconference play.

With a thin roster at this point – just nine scholarship players and a 6-11 center who recently committed and did not play one minute as an undergrad due to multiple injuries and surgeries – perhaps a bland schedule is just what the Tigers need.

For his part, Smith, who once won a national title at Kentucky, did not offer any prediction because he never offers predictions.

“We’re gonna win our share, we’re gonna lose our share,” the coach said.

Smith inherited almost all of this year’s schedule. He followed Josh Pastner, who moved on to Georgia Tech, and when Smith arrived here from Texas Tech there wasn’t much he could do to add glitz to this ho-hum collection of non-conference home games.

But that’s not just a Memphis challenge, he said, but one for every college basketball program.

“You’re not gonna get a home-and-home with a big-name school,” he said.

Smith also said he understood Pastner’s reservations about playing regional rivals, particularly Arkansas and Tennessee, for fear it would open the recruiting door. Reminded that back in 2008 there was an epic game at FedExForum between No. 1 Memphis and No. 2 UT when John Calipari and Bruce Pearl roamed the sidelines, Smith said: “That was a nice scenario, if you can get that done, 1 and 2. We’d do that in a heartbeat. But we’re not 1 and 2. It’s as simple as that.”

Pressed further on the issue of perhaps playing the Vols in the future, Smith said: “Rick Barnes (UT’s coach) and I are good friends. Played against each other in college, one of my favorite people in the business. We’d love to do something like that. But it’s gotta be good for everybody. We have visited about it.”

The Ole Miss series has been tied to football and Smith said he certainly was open to continuing to play the Rebels.

“If it’s feasible and it fits and if it’s a good thing, then why not do it?”

As for the recent commitment, center Chad Rykhoek was once a Top-150 prospect and signed with Baylor. But he never played there. He left Baylor in 2014. He’s had hip, groin and hernia surgeries. Sophomore center Nick Marshall’s recent exit from the program means Rykhoek will have the opportunity to play major minutes, if healthy.

Smith has plenty of scholarships open and said, “We’ve been very careful and very selective because we could have filled the roster a long time ago with junior college players and transfers.”

When someone suggested this first season was destined to be one in which the Tigers “took their lumps” while recruiting for the future, Smith rejected the notion, saying “That’s not one of the things I believe” and that he will enter this season with the same mindset he had whether coaching at Kentucky or anywhere else: Every game is winnable and he expects his team to win every game.

The Tigers open play on Nov. 14 at home vs. Texas-Rio Grande Valley – 8-22 last season and with a 335 RPI.

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