Nashville, Tenn. - Western Kentucky University and Middle Tennessee will play host to the first Sun Belt Classic, Dec. 15 at the Sommet Center in Nashville.
The Sun Belt Classic will have national appeal as Middle Tennessee will face Memphis at 6 p.m., in a game that will be televised on ESPN2, while WKU faces Tennessee at 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU.
Many college basketball prognosticators feel both Memphis and Tennessee will compete strongly for a national title and could be ranked among the top five in the country. Sun Belt East Division rivals WKU and Middle Tennessee are expected to contend for the league championship.
“We are eagerly anticipating the national exposure two of our schools will receive on ESPN2 and ESPNU on Dec. 15,” said Wright Waters, Sun Belt Conference Commissioner. “It is an excellent opportunity for us to showcase two of our outstanding universities. The match-ups against two likely highly-ranked teams will be a challenge, but the best way to measure yourself is to compete against the best teams in the country.
“I give our schools credit for scheduling these games and thank ESPN for televising each of them in prime time. The Sun Belt Conference is really excited about playing this unique basketball doubleheader on a national stage.”
WKU basketball coach Darrin Horn said the doubleheader is further evidence of the league’s commitment to bolster its basketball product nationally.
“We are excited about being a part of a big-time college basketball event such as this doubleheader,” said Horn. “I think it demonstrates both institutions and the Sun Belt’s Conference’s commitment to growing and being recognized as national players in college basketball. It should be a great day of tournament atmosphere basketball, not just for the school’s fans, but basketball fans throughout South Central Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.”
The games are home contests for WKU and Middle Tennessee, and Blue Raider basketball coach Kermit Davis believes his team will be facing the preseason No. 1 team in America when it tips against the Tigers.
“On top of fans being able to see two quality basketball games in the doubleheader, it will be great exposure for our team to play what I believe will be the preseason No. 1 team in America on national television,” Davis said. “It’s a great day for Sun Belt basketball to be on a national stage with two Top 5 programs in the country, and for Middle Tennessee to be associated with three really good programs in WKU, Memphis, and Tennessee, as well as three outstanding head coaches. It is going to be a fun night and we believe we will set the record that night for the most people ever to see Middle Tennessee play a home basketball game.”
Tickets for the event will be $30 for lower level seats and $15 for upper level seats. A ticket to the doubleheader will be included in WKU’s and Middle Tennessee’s season ticket packages. Season ticket holders will be given first priority.
Dr. Sidney McPhee, President of Middle Tennessee and the Sun Belt Conference:
“I applaud the coaches and administrators involved for organizing this great event which will attract national attention. The evening will promise to be exciting for college basketball fans throughout the region. The Sun Belt Classic is great for college basketball and we are pleased to be part of what should be a tremendous event in December.”
Dr. Wood Selig, WKU Director of Athletics:
“This is a college basketball fan’s dream evening. We are grateful to the administration and coaching staffs of all four institutions, as everyone approached this concept with the philosophy of creating an event that would be great for college basketball and all those who are passionate about the game. This will have the look and feel of a postseason NCAA Tournament site – yet, it will only be mid-December.”
Chris Massaro, Middle Tennessee Director of Athletics:
“The Sun Belt Classic will provide the atmosphere of an NCAA tournament and will be an event that will provide college basketball fans an incredible evening of entertainment. This event should bring in basketball fans from all over the middle Tennessee area.
“The SBC Classic will generate remarkable interest and the teams involved will gain valuable exposure early in the college basketball season. Middle Tennessee is excited to be part of what we know is going to be a great night for college basketball in the middle Tennessee area.”
John Calipari, University of Memphis Head Basketball Coach:
“It is going to be a great night of basketball for the state of Tennessee, having three of the state’s teams playing in the capital city of Nashville. It’s going to be a tremendous showcase for the state and its basketball talent with both contests of the doubleheader televised on one of the ESPN networks.
“When I first came to Memphis back in 2000, I proposed playing a neutral game in Nashville, but for one thing or another, it didn’t work out. I’m glad we helped make it happen this time, especially for our fans that live in the Nashville area who are unable to travel to Memphis for our home games. This contest gives our fan base that lives in Nashville an opportunity to see us play in person, so I expect to see a lot of Memphis blue and gray in the Sommet Center in mid-December.
“Middle Tennessee is another tough opponent on our extremely rugged non-conference schedule. Coach (Kermit) Davis does a great job with his squad, and he returns a lot of experienced veterans in 2007-08. Our fans probably remember last year’s game (in Memphis) and the margin of victory, but this is a different season and I expect nothing less than Middle Tennessee playing its best against us. I look for Middle Tennessee to be a 20-win team this year and play in the postseason.”
Bruce Pearl, University of Tennessee Head Basketball Coach:
“The state of Tennessee basketball has never been better. Tennessee, Memphis and Vanderbilt all got to the Sweet 16 last year and Belmont made it to the NCAA Tournament. Almost all of the Division I programs in the state had great seasons. When we have doubleheaders like this it will showcase the level of play in this area.
“This is the third straight year that we have played a non-conference game in Nashville. I think it is important to highlight our program in all parts of the state. Although the game is in the state of Tennessee, this is a neutral site because Bowling Green (Ky.) is closer to Nashville than Knoxville is. WKU is always one of the best teams in its conference and will be picked to be in the field of 64 this year. Some people think there is everything to lose and nothing to gain by playing games like this. I don’t agree with that. You run the risk of getting beat, but the risk is worth it.”