During Tubby Smith’s press conference Wednesday, the Memphis coach mentioned that he had reached out to the Razorbacks about the possibility of scheduling a non-conference game.
Smith is no stranger to playing Arkansas. As a head coach, he has faced the Razorbacks with four different teams (Arkansas’ record vs. Smith at that school): Tulsa (5-0), Georgia (1-2), Kentucky (3-11) and Texas Tech (1-0).
In his first season at Memphis, Smith led the Tigers to a 19-13 overall record and 9-9 record in the AAC. He made national headlines recently because six players, including the team's top three scorers, have transferred since the season ended.
The softening relations between Arkansas and Memphis comes more than a decade after John Calipari – then the head coach of the Tigers – cancelled the annual series because Arkansas was no longer a “national program.”
Memphis is on its third coach in the post-Calipari era. Smith replaced Josh Pastner, who was one of Calipari's assistants before becoming the Tigers' head coach when he bolted for Kentucky.
The Arkansas-Memphis series was nearly even when it ended, with the Razorbacks holding a slight 11-10 edge. That includes Arkansas winning two of three against Calipari-led Memphis teams.
Beginning in the 1991-92 season, the Razorbacks and Tigers played one regular-season game for 12 straight years, rotating the location between Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville and The Pyramid in Memphis.
During that span, Arkansas and Memphis also met twice in the NCAA Tournament.
David Vaughn’s put back with eight seconds left lifted the Tigers to an 82-80 second-round victory in 1992, when Memphis reached the Elite Eight. Three years later, Arkansas survived for a 96-91 overtime victory in the Sweet 16 en route to a runner-up finish in 1995.
Recruiting battles supplemented those games to help create a rivalry.
Arkansas’ 1995 team featured three players – Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart and Elmer Martin – from Memphis and Nolan Richardson routinely signed players from the city.
"Any time you have three players on your team from that city, it makes it a rivalry," Richardson said before the Sweet 16 game. "I don't think it would be such a big rivalry if we didn't have as many players from Memphis. You have more of a rivalry among the players than among the fans right now."
Nine players from Memphis signed with Arkansas during Richardson’s tenure, highlighted by McDonald’s All-Americans Ron Huery and Todd Day.
The only known non-conference game in the Razorbacks’ 2017-18 season is a home date with Minnesota, as it will be the return game of a home-and-home series that began last year in Minneapolis.
Arkansas will also likely host a Big 12 opponent as part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge.