Memphis adds four-year series vs. Hoyas, drops Rebels from upcoming season
Memphis continued to create the toughest nonconference schedule for next season by adding Georgetown in a likely top five matchup.
The problem is the game pushed the Tigers one over the NCAA maximum number of games. If a team is in a tournament, which Memphis is next season, schools can only play in 31 games. The addition of the Hoyas came at the expense of Ole Miss, pushing off the Rebels for a year and removing their lone marquee home game next season.
Memphis, which will return six of its top seven scorers from an Elite Eight team and adds one of the top five players in the class of 2007 in guard Derrick Rose, agreed to a four-year home-and-home deal Thursday with Georgetown. The first game with the Hoyas will be Dec. 22 on ESPN.
Georgetown could return nine of its top 10 scorers from last season's Final Four team if junior forward Jeff Green decides to return to school. He has until Monday's deadline to withdraw from the NBA draft. Even without Green, the Hoyas are expected to be a top three Big East team and a likely top 10 team in December with the return of junior center Roy Hibbert.
Memphis now has a home slate of games against Georgetown, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee. It also has a neutral site game against USC in New York in the Jimmy V Classic and likely two neutral games in New York in the Coaches vs. Cancer benefit tournament in November against Oklahoma. Memphis could also play either Kentucky or Connecticut, assuming all four win their two-game, four-team tournaments to make it to New York.
Both Memphis coach John Calipari and athletic director R.C. Johnson said it was going to be the best schedule in the country, and one "heckuva home schedule."
But it came at the expense of Ole Miss.
Memphis nearly enacted a buyout clause in the contract with Ole Miss and paid the Rebels $50,000 to get out of the final year of the contract. Kentucky did just that with UMass earlier this spring, opting to pay a buyout rather than play in Boston against Minutemen in the return of a home-and-home set up by former coach Tubby Smith.
Memphis and Ole Miss put off the game a year. But in theory, they are essentially canceling the last game of the series because Johnson and Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone agreed to a new home-and-home series that starts in Memphis in 2008-09. The Tigers would then play in Oxford, Miss., in 2009-10. The reason Ole Miss didn't press Memphis is the Rebels had asked Memphis last year to drop the final two years of a four-year football contract.
So, Memphis and Ole Miss will play the final year of a football deal in Memphis this season and then instead of a four-year deal, the contract has been reduced to two years with a home-and-home series starting in Oxford, Miss., in 2008.
Johnson said the Tigers wanted to start this new series with the Rebels at home because they would be going to Georgetown in 2008-09. That sounds great for Memphis but what about Ole Miss? The Memphis game was going to be the marquee event on the nonconference schedule for Andy Kennedy in his second season in Oxford.
"R.C. helped us out in football," Boone said. "But this was going to be a good RPI game for us."
Kennedy said Calipari asked him if he wanted to put the game off since the Tigers were likely a top-ranked team. But Kennedy said he told him no initially.
"It's a high-profile game in our building," Kennedy said.
The game was originally scheduled for Dec. 1 in Oxford. Ole Miss is playing a rebuilding Winthrop in Jackson, Miss., in the San Juan Shootout and has a few other non-descript games the Rebels are finalizing.
"We can't replace a team like Memphis on our schedule," Kennedy said.
Calipari isn't fretting the scheduling change since he claims that schools like Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas all want to play in Memphis for recruiting purposes. So, instead of always helping them out, he seeks out national games like Arizona, Gonzaga and now Georgetown. Although, next season, with Tennessee the SEC favorite and a likely top 10 team, the Tigers do have a national game against one of their local, regional rivals.
As for Ole Miss, the Rebels are now searching for a marquee game. Anyone interested? Call Kennedy.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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