We’re back with our final installment of this awesome series and I wanted to start by thanking everyone who has read our series to this point and told us you liked it, hated it and in one case tried to get us unblocked by your school’s men’s basketball coach.
If you haven’t done so already, please check out: part 1 and part 2, where we made the case for: USF, Wichita St, Navy, Temple, ECU, Tulane, Tulsa, Cincy and UCF as new conference villains in the absence of UConn and debuted our ultra-scientific Dan Hurley Index of sheer un-likability for each school.
By process of elimination you have probably figured out which 2 schools we have not covered yet. So let’s get to it!
BURNING HOT: (9+ on the DHI)
The nicest thing I’ll say about Memphis is that I wish my team/school of choice could produce the same passion for college basketball that Tiger fans do with impressive consistency. This isn’t a fan base born from John Calipari’s massively successful decade as Tigers head coach from 2000-09. Even in the Tic Price years this fan base was filling up their old arena, which is now an oversized Bass Pro Shop.
Let me also admit something kind of surprising: I liked/still kind of like the Penny Hardaway hire. A lot of the critiques of the hire are valid: Penny’s sole experience in coaching prior to taking over the Tigers was on the AAU circuit and most recently at Memphis’ East High School where he had the country’s top high school player (James Wiseman). Its an inherently risky hire.
Even acknowledging all of that, Hardaway injected fan interest and a national spotlight that would have never ever returned under his predecessor Tubby Smith. I enjoy making jokes about Memphis’ 2019-20 season as much as the next AAC fan, but let’s not pretend like it wouldn’t have been a lot different if James Wiseman doesn’t get suspended or chooses not to leave after the suspension. Also, Penny’s hire made a certain brand of 35 to 60-year-old male sportswriter (that certainly had Smith or a Smith assistant as a source) very angry and that alone is a check mark in the ‘pro’ column.
Also, other than the season opening win over Oklahoma in 2016 as Cougar fans let’s not lie to ourselves that we wouldn’t trade our last 4 years for Memphis’ in a heartbeat.
But let’s get to why everyone’s here: the hating!
I am not one to play up academic rankings and whether a University is on this publication’s list of prestigious institutions. You realize after a certain number of years in the working world that your alma mater isn’t much of an indicator beyond maybe your ability to get your foot in the door at certain industries or companies. I also have a significant amount of pride in the University of Houston being my alma mater precisely because of its origins as a working-class school with numerous non-traditional students.
Man oh man though, Memphis, if your academics make you a non-starter for expansion nowadays its less of a warning sign and more of a 5 alarm fire. Memphis has more in common with open enrollment institutions like UTEP and Marshall than any current AAC member. And frankly, having an open enrollment is more logical than whatever Memphis is trying and failing to do to make itself a respectable academic institution.
No amount of sold out Fed Ex Forum crowds and new football specific facilities can take away from the fact that a University of Memphis degree is about as valuable as one from DeVry or Hollywood Upstairs Medical College.
Let’s also get to the city of Memphis. I have already established previously that Orlando is dead last among all of the AAC cities I could choose to live in, and I won’t contradict that now. I’ve been one time to Memphis and while I’m not filled with positive memories, I didn’t find it particularly pleasant or unpleasant. The chances of getting a tasty flavorful meal in Memphis are probably better than they are in say Cincinnati or a couple other AAC destination.
Somebody, I can’t remember who now, said that Memphis synthesizes the worst aspects of the 3 states its metro area encompasses (Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee) and dumps into a depressing mid-sized river city. I don’t have enough personal experience with Memphis to agree or disagree, but it certainly tracks.
I’ll strenuously object though to any assertion than Memphis BBQ has the culinary value that people from Memphis seem to think it possesses. I am not speaking from a place of Texas exceptionalism here either. While I believe the Lone Star State (mainly the Central part) produces some legendary que, I am also on the record as a big, big fan of Kansas City BBQ and have a healthy respect for Carolina BBQ. But despite being someone who likes pork above all the other meats, I was unimpressed with my various exposures to Memphis que. I am positive Memphis can do better que than any city west of Denver (and if you’ve ever had food there, Denver included) but it shouldn’t be in the same conversation as Texas, Carolina or KC.
Also, don’t think those of us who were around for the Conference USA days don’t remember what utter garbage Memphis football has been for nearly all of its history. D’Angelo Williams has a good case for being the best offensive player in CUSA history and you guys couldn’t even break 8 regular season wins with him on the roster. You may have cleaned yourselves up now, but we all remember what you were and won’t forget to remind you of this whenever a down year hits.
Some small part of me dies every time a broadcaster doing a Memphis home basketball game refer to the Tiger fan base as ‘knowledgeable’.
One of your fans publicly did number two on the floor at a basketball game, which frankly isn’t a bit surprising if you’ve met or even interacted with any Memphis fans online. I’d be worried about any blowback from Memphis fans to this, but most of them haven’t seem to have gotten internet yet in Germantown or Olive Branch.
At least Tilman Fertita didn’t make UH give one of his sons an undeserved football roster spot like Fred Smith (of FedEx fame) did with Memphis and his son Cannon.
Your best ever season officially never happened. At least whenever I am inadvertently forced to watch the clip of NC State winning in 1983, I know my school still has a Final Four banner that we are allowed to hang in our arena.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 9.2
A lot of you have correctly pointed out that there’s an easy and obvious answer to who is the natural villain for Cougar fans, and frankly the team/school who was probably villain #1 this whole time: the SMU Mustangs.
I realize in the last section I compared Memphis’ degree to a defunct online college, but I could probably have a drink and tailgate with Memphis fans and have a good enough time. This would certainly also hold true for the other schools we’ve covered previously in this series. I’d rather go get my driver’s license renewed than spend more than 10 seconds talking to any SMU fan and I’m sure the feeling is mutual.
SMU naturally likes to play up the fact that it is in an iconic city (Dallas). But if you have actually been to an athletic event at SMU you’ll know that spiritually the neighborhood of Highland Park is about as far away as you can get from the average person’s neighborhood in the DFW Metroplex. I hesitate to even classify UH/SMU as part of the Houston/Dallas rivalry generally because the vast majority of Cowboys, Mavs or Rangers fans couldn’t give two shits about SMU unless they’re having a banner year.
If I could neatly sum up the SMU aesthetic, it’s the entitlement of someone from an Ivy League institution in the body of an SEC fraternity boy/sorority girl. No other AAC institution has a more radically different regular student to student athlete experience than SMU. One of your star defensive players had to pull up his SMU athletic bio to get himself out of what was certainly not his first time being racially profiled by school campus cops.
Those of us SMU haters had to really grit our teeth last Fall when the school had had its first really good football season since their SWC-era NCAA death penalty. And I can’t in good faith argue that UH has a better long-term football outlook than the Ponies at this moment. But just remember Pony fans, your best season in the last 35 years still ended with you not even making the conference championship game and getting demolished at a pre-Christmas bowl by a CUSA team without their head coach.
It’s been a few years since Cougar football really gave me joy, but at least I can go back and watch the 2015 Peach Bowl. What do you have? Beating a 5-7 TCU team? Relying on Tulsa having the country’s worst kicker and most cowardly head coach to squeeze out a double OT home win over a 4-8 team? Barely squeezing out a win over the worst Houston team since moving to the AAC?
You threw a Brinks truck worth of money at June Jones, he didn't break 8 wins in a season and chose to play at his charity golf tournament in Hawaii during the peak of Texas recruiting season. Charitably, Jones was completely checked out his last 3 seasons at SMU, if he ever was completely checked in. A true inspiration to guys everywhere who show up to their jobs completely going through the motions. There’s a joke here about wealthy people being ‘easy marks’ but I think all of you reading can finish it from here.
Chad Morris, as a native Texan, voluntarily chose to go live in Arkansas rather than coach another second at your school which is a harsher burn than anything I can come up with.
Houston basketball is coming off probably its worst 25 or so year stretch and STILL somehow has accomplished more than SMU’s pathetic excuse for a program. You gave Matt Doherty- THE GUY WHO SOMEHOW LOST 20 GAMES AT NORTH FREAKING CAROLINA, 7 full seasons as your basketball head coach and the best you had to show for it was finishing a high of 7th in the post-Calipari CUSA. Aren't you guys supposed to be smart?
Despite being located in a major metro area, specific location aside, SMU men’s basketball somehow hasn’t gone more than 2 games into the NCAA Tournament since 1956. NINETEEN FIFTY-SIX?! I had to triple check that, because it almost seemed unbelievable. I am also now well over 30 years old and an SMU March Madness win hasn’t happened in my lifetime.
The team best equipped to make a deep postseason run was ineligible because you hired serial NCAA rules-bender Larry Brown to be your basketball coach, and real fucking stunner here folks HE GOT CAUGHT BENDING NCAA RULES. Not to belabor the point, but I thought you guys were supposed to be smart.
I rooted so hard for a completely mediocre USC team to send SMU home from the 2017 NCAA Tournament that I woke up my co-host from a deep sleep. This would not be the case for me with any other current AAC school, even Memphis.
I would rather see the schools in Austin or College Station win a head to head with SMU, because frankly I’d rather not see how insufferable the SMU fan base could get with actual significant athletic achievement.
Dan Hurley Index Score: 10.0
Get bent, Ponies.