Who Are They?
The Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks are members of the Ohio Valley Conference and the University of Tennessee System. Roughly 6,500 students reside on campus in Martin, Tennessee. Anthony Stewart is entering his second season as the Skyhawks head coach. The Skyhawks were picked to finish 8th in the OVC preseason poll. I also must add that I am a huge critic/nerd/fan of uniforms, logos, fonts and other aesthetic aspects of sports. I already love what I’ve seen from the Skyhawks in that department, but they really knocked it out of the park with this guy:
What They Did Last Year:
The Skyhawks went 22-13 last year with a 10-6 record in conference play which was good enough for a second place finish in the OVC. UTM advanced to the final game of the conference tournament where they lost to Jacksonville State. Last season’s 22 wins were tied for the best single-season total in program history.
UTM has played in the CIT during the last three seasons. They defeated UNC-Asheville in the first round last year and fell to Campbell in the second round.
The Skyhawks did not have any notable wins outside of their conference last season. They lost a close game at Ole Miss in the season opener, 86-83, and took a drubbing from highly ranked Kentucky, 111-76. UTM also fell to Illinois State 57-74.
The Skyhawks played with good tempo last year, finishing in the top-60 in FGM, FGA and FG% in the country. They also turned the ball over quite a bit (345th in the country).
Key Losses and Additions:
The Skyhawks will lose some key seniors to graduation heading into the 2017-18 season. Most importantly, UTM will be without First Team All-OVC point guard Jacolby Mobley (incredibly fun to say). Mobley averaged 19 points last year for the Skyhawks and secured 2 OVC Player of the Week awards late in the season.
In addition to losing their leading backcourt contributor, the Skyhawks also lose 6-foot-7 forward Javier Martinez to graduation. Martinez averaged 12 points and 8 rebounds on his way to making Second Team All-OVC last season. UTM also lost three other players to graduation. In total, the Skyhawks lost 5 of their 7 leading scorers from a year ago.
The Skyhawks, like the Illini, experienced major turnover this offseason and are playing a lot of new faces. New to the team is FIU transfer Dominique Williams. Williams is a 6-foot-6 forward who scored a career high 25 points off the bench in UTM’s OT loss to Marshall on Friday night. He averaged 7 points in 2015 at FIU.
Transfers DelFincko Bogan and Terrence Parker also played a combined 61 minutes for a combined 22 points off the bench. Junior transfers Darius Thompson and Jailen Gill started for the Skyhawks in their first game with the program, but gave way to Williams, Bogan and Parker as the game went on.
The one key returning player for UTM from a year ago is Matthew Butler. The Skyhawks are going to lean on Butler heavily this year. Butler is a 6-foot-2 senior guard who played his first two seasons at Rhode Island before transferring to UTM. Last season, Butler was the team’s second leading scorer at 13.7 points per game and second in assists at 3.7. He also shot 37 percent from three on 6 attempts per game. Butler was named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team last season.
Butler scored 25 in UTM’s 3-point loss to Ole Miss last season. He would go on to top 30 points twice last season. Butler scored in double digits in 28 of the team’s 35 games.
Butler scored 20 points on Friday night in an 11-point OT loss to Marshall. He shot 4-for-11 from three and also tallied 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 6 turnovers. As Matthew Butler goes, so too go the Skyhawks.
Butler was named to the 2017-18 Preseason All-OVC team and is expected to have a huge year. The Illini will be hyper-focused on containing Butler and not letting him get hot from three. If that happens the Illini could be in trouble.
Illinois really impressed in its 47-point win over Southern on Friday night. I wouldn’t expect quite the same dominance on Sunday, but I think the Illini will improve to 2-0.
I expect Matthew Butler to have a big night, but the Skyhawks have a ton of new pieces to work in this season. It is still very early on and they will still be looking for their identity. The pressure on-ball defense from the Illini will frustrate UTM and force them into some costly turnovers.
The Skyhawks are a much older team than the Illini, as most of the players who will see minutes are juniors and seniors. They just haven’t played much together. So, if Illinois comes out lazy, UTM’s experience and Matthew Butler’s talent could put the Illini on upset alert.
I would expect a tougher task than the Illini saw vs Southern. UTM will likely make a few runs to hang around for a little longer in this game, but I expect the Illini to pull away and secure a 15-20 point victory.