More details began to emerge on Wednesday about a men’s basketball game to be played between Memphis and LSU early next season at BancorpSouth Arena.
Contracts have been signed by the schools with a promoter for a game on Saturday, Nov. 21. Game time and TV plans are not yet known.
The game will not, however, be part of the 24-hour “wheel” of games that ESPN will broadcast early in the season. An ESPN spokesman told the Daily Journal that the network plans its 24-hour basketball marathon on Nov. 16.
The notion of a Memphis-LSU game in Tupelo first emerged last October, when Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson mentioned it on a Memphis radio show hosted by George Lapides. At that point, it appeared the only holdup was getting Johnson’s signature on a contract.
Wednesday morning, again on the radio, Johnson told Lapides that both schools had signed the contracts for the game.
That was good news in Tupelo.
“This is a great way to get college basketball to Tupelo,” said Todd Hunt, the BCS Arena director. “It’s an appealing matchup for fans from both teams and fans in this area.”
The idea of a sea of blue-clad Memphis fans invading Tupelo to see their Tigers could have area businesses seeing green.
“We’re really excited at the possibilities,” said Neal McCoy, deputy director of the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Some of the impact will depend on the time of the game, but we certainly expect to see fans eating at least one meal here and perhaps even staying overnight.”
The arena’s seating capacity when configured for basketball is about 7,800. “Give the interest in this matchup, we might look at squeezing in a few more seats,” Hunt said. “It’s a nice problem to have.”
Previous Division I basketball games at BCS Arena have involved either Mississippi State or Ole Miss. The November game will count as a “neutral court” meeting for both Memphis and LSU, which could help the teams’ national profiles, win or lose, when it comes to making next season’s NCAA tournament.
Both Hunt and McCoy said the November game could improve Tupelo’s status as a possible destination for other Division I basketball games. “The exposure can only be a benefit for us,” McCoy said.
Memphis is expected to return four starters from a team that went 24-10 in Josh Pastner’s first season as head coach, along with a heralded recruiting class. The Tigers’ season ended with a 90-81 loss to Ole Miss in the second round of the NIT.
LSU stumbled as the defending SEC regular season champion, finishing 11-20. The Tigers may return four starters, but point guard Bo Spencer, who would be a senior, was suspended from the team earlier this week over academic issues.