t’s time for the Tigers and Blazers to meet on the hardwood once again.
With both schools trending in the right direction after impressive postseason runs, there’s never been a better time to renew an in-state series that was once relevant during the glory days of each program. Bruce Pearl knows the benefits of a strong in-state series all too well.
During Pearl’s time on Rocky Top, the Tennessee-Memphis rivalry burgeoned into one of the nation’s most fierce. The climax of that series came in 2008, when the No. 2 Volunteers topped the No. 1 Tigers in one of ESPN’s most-watched college basketball games of all-time.
The series benefited both schools in different ways.
Playing in Memphis allowed Pearl greater access to the fertile but distant recruiting grounds of West Tennessee.
Playing against Tennessee gave Memphis a yearly RPI matchup against a top power conference school.
And both schools benefited from the media buzz. Tennessee star Chris Lofton and Memphis All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts were featured on the cover Sports Illustrated alongside an article highlighting the country’s top rivalries.
Auburn and UAB could reap the same benefits today even if neither program has experienced that level of success.
Auburn’s recruiting foothold in Birmingham has never been strong. Future NBA players such as Eric Bledsoe and Demarre Carroll have slipped out of the Magic City in recent years in favor of more successful SEC programs.
Even mid-level recruits, such as the Steele Brothers and Justin Coleman, have given little consideration to Auburn in favor of Alabama.
Distance makes recruiting in Birmingham difficult for any Auburn coach, but a series against UAB would give fans and recruits an opportunity to see the Tigers in-person, whether it’s in the BJCC or in Bartow Arena.
On UAB’s end, an annual matchup against an SEC opponent would provide a RPI boost for the Blazers, especially if Auburn continues its steady rise.
Auburn and UAB met 17 times from 1983 to 1999. Both programs were at their historic peak during the span, with Sonny Smith and Gene Bartow making NCAA Tournament appearances a yearly occurrence.
If Pearl and Jerod Haase plan to returns their programs to shoes heights, there’s little reason for the two schools not to meet again.