Game Time: 7:00 pm
Head Coach: Ryan Ridder (2nd season)
Current Record: 0-0
Last Game: L 88-75 @ Tennessee Tech (2021 season)
2021 Season 8-22 (4-14 9th OVC)
Top Players: G KJ Simon (16.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.6 spg, 1.4 bpg)
UT-Martin had a rough season last year. After the passing of coach Anthony Stewart in November 2020, the program started completely fresh in 2021 under first-year coach Ryan Ridder. Ridder had previously been the head coach at Bethune-Cookman, where in 2017-2018 he was awarded the Joe B. Hall award for the nation’s top first-year head coach in Division 1. BCU sat out the 2020-2021 season so Ridder moved on to UT-Martin where he rebuilt the roster from scratch. Most importantly, he brought along with him guard KJ Simon. Simon played two seasons at Troy and was set to play at BCU before they opted out. He responded with a monster season and a first-team all-conference selection at UT-Martin. Simon was 2nd in scoring, 3rd in blocks, and third in steals in the OVC last year. He’s a lefty and should present an excellent challenge for Pitt’s perimeter defense. Also playing for the Skyhawks is Parker Stewart, back after a season at Indiana. After an inconsistent season for the tournament-bound Hoosiers, Stewart is hoping to rekindle the scoring touch that led to him averaging almost 20 per game for the Skyhawks in 2019. Obviously, the return to Pittsburgh for Stewart is a storyline by itself. He’s 18 points shy of 1,000 for his career.
Analysis: Pitt will be missing Hugley and Jeffress in this one so it should provide another excellent opportunity to get a good look at the new guys. UT-Martin is expected to contend for the OVC title this season due to the return of Simon and Stewart. I expect a close game. Pitt is favored by 8.5, a number that has gone down from the initial line (I’m assuming due to the Hugley and Jeffress absences). Given the way the past two seasons have opened, a Pitt win here with a shorthanded roster would be a huge shot in the arm for the program. UT-Martin is a lot better than St. Francis or The Citadel. Neither team shot the ball well last season, especially from deep (UT-Martin 29.9%, Pitt 31.4%) so I expect a low-scoring game.
Prediction: Pitt 68, UT-Martin 62
Hail to Pitt.