Memphis guard Antonio Anderson got an indication of how big the Tigers’ next game is when he stopped at a gas station to fill up his tank.
“Two guys ran up to me and said, ‘We can’t wait for the game. You guys got to beat Georgetown.’ Everybody’s talking about it,” Anderson said Thursday. “Things are a little crazy around here for this game.”
Memphis coach John Calipari did his best to toughen up his Tigers’ nonconference schedule. But with the Tigers ranked second and Georgetown fifth, Saturday’s game at the FedExForum brings the added baggage of history with it.
This will be the first time the Tigers have hosted a game in which both teams were ranked in the Top Five and only the third such game in Memphis’ history.
“People are calling about tickets, and I’m telling them there are none,” Calipari said. “They’re saying the arena holds 18,000, and there’s got to be tickets, but there are none. I mean, I don’t have any.”
The Memphis Tigers come into this game 9-0 in their best start since 1984-85, and they also have the nation’s second-longest home winning streak at 36 games. BYU has won 37 going into Friday night’s game with Southern Utah.
The Hoyas are enjoying a strong start themselves at 8-0. The team that reached the Final Four last spring is enjoying its highest ranking in more than a decade with preseason All-American Roy Hibbert one of three senior starters.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III said scheduling is an inexact science.
“Hopefully, those games help prepare you for when you have to go to all those Big East cities. This is the same thing. We’re going down there, playing a terrific team, a veteran team in their building, so hopefully we’re prepared,” he said.
But Memphis plays in Conference USA, not the Big East. That is why Calipari tried to pack his non-conference schedule with tough competition, and Georgetown is just the first of the ranked opponents visiting this season.
No. 19 Arizona comes to Memphis on Dec. 29 followed by 18th-ranked Gonzaga on Jan. 26, and No. 12 Tennessee hits town Feb. 23 in another nationally televised game.
“This is a game that we need to see where we are,” Calipari said. “If we’re where we need to be, it’s going to be a heck of a game. If we’re not, we’ll get that picture too.”
Georgetown guard Jeremiah Rivers has been hearing from friends excited about this game, which tips off at noon EST.
“Everybody in the country’s going to watch the game if they’re up. The game’s a little early. It’s noon eastern time, and in California it’s 9. I thought it out,” he said.
The Tigers have gotten to the regional finals of the NCAA tournament the past two years and failed to advance to the Final Four. Last March, they lost 92-76 to Ohio State and struggled against Greg Oden.
Georgetown hasn’t played since last weekend when the Hoyas beat Radford 110-51. Memphis beat Cincinnati 79-69 on the road Wednesday night.
But this game offers an excellent chance to see if the Tigers with their deep bench can handle the 7-foot-2 Hibbert. Reserve forward Shawn Taggart is the only Tiger taller than 6-9, and he’s only 6-10. The Hoyas are deeper this season as well with nine players averaging 17 minutes, which could help.
Georgetown is shooting 51.9 percent from the floor—sixth-best in the nation. The Hoyas also defend well, holding opponents to 34.5 percent shooting. Memphis shoots 47.3 percent, but this will be the Hoyas’ first ranked opponent this season.
“It’s going to get us ready for league play, Big East,” Hibbert said. “Obviously, we have a lot of competition as high a caliber as Memphis, so it’s going to get us ready.”
Memphis has beaten Georgetown only once in seven tries, and that was in the 1983 NCAA tournament when Keith Lee outplayed Patrick Ewing in a 66-57 victory that kept the Hoyas out of the Final Four for the only time during Ewing’s tenure.
The difference this time around could be Memphis freshman Derrick Rose. He had a season-high 26 points at Cincinnati and has heard people talking up Georgetown as a big game. He welcomes the pressure.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came here, was for this schedule to play the best teams in the nation,” Rose said.