2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks

Senior forward Twymond Howard (30) was a key piece in the Skyhawks' miraculous turnaround in 2014-15, and will be leaned upon heavily in 2015-16 to lead Tennessee-Martin on their trek towards the NCAA Tournament.
Senior forward Twymond Howard (30) was a key piece in the Skyhawks’ miraculous turnaround in 2014-15, and will be leaned upon heavily in 2015-16 to lead Tennessee-Martin on their trek towards the NCAA Tournament.

Coming off a year where a team wins just 8 games, very rarely does that team come back the next year and pass the 20-win mark and make a deep post-season run.

Nobody told the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks that it was tough to do, and they proved pretty well everyone wrong in showing us all that it can indeed be done.

Last season, the Skyhawks went 21 – 13 overall, a 13-win improvement from the season prior. They advanced to the semi-finals of the CIT, thanks in large part to newcomer Twymond Howard.

This season, fans are hoping for more of the same from the Skyhawks. They got a taste of post-season play, and are hungry for another appearance and run by their team. With a roster full of experience and talent, the Skyhawks could be the beneficiaries of a certain conference powerhouse taking a step back this season. Time will tell as to how they handle the opportunity in front of them.

On the heels of last year’s successful run, take a read below to see what the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks will bring to the hardwood for an encore presentation in 2015-16.

Who’s Missing

In 2014-15, the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks were coming off an 8-win season the year before, and they had a new head coach in Heath Schroyer. When all was said and done, the Skyhawks recorded 21 wins, and advanced to the CIT semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Evansville. Heading into 2015-16, the Skyhawks will be looking for a repeat performance, but they will have to do so without their top two guards.

Deville Smith and Marshun Newell, both of whom were key contributors on the offensive end for the Skyhawks last season, have graduated from Tennessee-Martin. With two glaring holes in the back court, the Skyhawks will need others to step up and fill the voids.

Last season, Smith and Newell both appeared in all 34 games for the Skyhawks. Smith made 33 starts, while Newell started in all 34. Smith led the team in scoring, averaging 13.8 points per contest, to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per contest.

In terms of Newell, he averaged 13.1 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds per contest. Both players shot over 41% from the floor, and Newell shot an impressive 40.6% from three point range.

Newell and Smith were both key factors in the remarkable turnaround for the Skyhawks in 2014-15. Both were a big reason for their post-season success, helping to lead Tennessee-Martin to the CIT semi-finals, a year after winning just 8 games overall.

To replace the production lost with the departure of both Smith and Newell, the Skyhawks will need to rely on a former starter returning from injury, and one of the best three-point shooting guards in the entire country. The Skyhawks won’t have to look far to find their replacements.

Who’s Returning

Losing Smith and Newell from last year’s team will lead to a few growing pains, but as we said above, there are pieces in place who will make up for the production across the floor and keep the Skyhawks near the top of the conference standings. With three starters returning from the 2014-15 team, Tennessee-Martin will once again look to make a run at the conference title and a deep post-season run.

All-conference forward Twymond Howard leads the way in terms of returnees for Heath Schroyer’s team in 2015-16. Add in guard Alex Anderson, forward Javier Martinez, and medical-redshirt Myles Taylor, the Skyhawks will have a veteran group for this season.

Before attending Tennessee-Martin, 6’6” forward Twymond Howard was a star at Southwest Mississippi Community College, averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. In his first season with the Skyhawks, Howard emerged as one of the most skilled forwards in the Ohio Valley Conference. He averaged 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest, en route to earning a spot on the OVC All-Newcomer team.

Howard recorded five double-doubles on the season, and led the team in scoring six times over the course of the season. His combination of size, shooting ability, and effectiveness on the glass has allowed him to enjoy early success in his career in the NCAA. Howard will be looked upon to carry the load on the offensive end for the team this year, which based on his performance last season, he looks more than up to the task.

Joining Howard in the front court is junior forward Javier Martinez. The 6’7” forward from St. Croix, Virgin Islands made 15 starts last season, appearing in 33 games as a whole. In just under 16 minutes per game, Martinez was a dazzling 70.3% from the floor, averaging 5.7 points per game. He also pulled down 3.8 rebounds per contest. With an increased role surely heading Martinez’s way this season, his production should see a nice increase.

The third, and certainly not least, starter that’s returning from last season’s team is the sharp-shooting Alex Anderson. In 34 games last season, 33 of which were starts, Anderson was third in the NCAA in terms of three point shooting percentage (48.0%). He averaged 12.5 points and 2.4 rebounds per game in 2014-15, and can thank his shooting prowess for his statistics. With the holes in the back court, the 5’11” guard will be looked upon to lead things from the back end, potentially take on more of a “point guard” role, and continue to shoot lights out in the process.

Tennessee-Martin also gets a healthy Myles Taylor back this season. After playing just 7 games a season, and taking a medical redshirt, the 6’7” forward will likely return to the starting lineup in 2015-16.

Incoming players like 6’8” forward Malik London and 7’2” center Nick Detlev will add some more size and depth to the front court, while guards like Jacoby Motley and James Harrison add depth to the back court.

In 2016-17, the Skyhawks will also add Malik Pugh to the pack court. Pugh transferred to Tennessee-Martin from UNC-Wilmington after the 2014-15 season, but will sit out this season due to transfer regulations.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Alex Anderson (SR)

Guard: James Harrison (JR)

Forward: Twymond Howard (SR)

Forward: Myles Taylor (SR)

Forward: Javier Martinez (JR)

Schedule Notes

For the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks this season, playing at home during non-conference play will be something that is few and far between. They have five home games in non-conference action, three of which come over a span of their last four games.

The Skyhawks open on the road in Stillwater, OK to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. After returning home to take on Bethune-Cookman, a team that UTM should roll over, the Skyhawks head off to Harrisonburg, VA to take part in the Men Against Breast Cancer Classic.

In Harrisonburg, the Skyhawks will play three games in three days, taking on Oral Roberts, Florida International, and host James Madison. With their experience, depth, and talent, the Skyhawks have the potential to come away with three wins in the event.

After that, it’s back home for a game against Harris-Stowe, another game the team should win easily. Then, it’s back on the road for a gruelling five-game road trip. The Skyhawks will take on Malik Newman and Mississippi State, Martez Harrison and UMKC, Texas Tech, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and Saint Louis. Each team is equipped with their own star guard, putting pressure squarely on the newly-formed back court tandem for Tennessee-Martin.

As they close out non-conference play, the Skyhawks have three home games in a span of four games overall, and each of those four games is winnable. They will take on Arkansas State and Alcorn State at home, head on the road to take on Florida Atlantic, then return back home to face Boyce College. This four-game set is a perfect way for the Skyhawks to string together some wins and make a statement before Ohio Valley Conference play begins at Eastern Kentucky.

The turnaround that the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks put together in 2014-15 was something that you don’t see very often. The team made a 13-win improvement from the year before, and made a deep run in the CIT before being ousted by Evansville in the semi-finals.

Looking to 2015-16, the Skyhawks have a roster full of experience and talent that should allow for them to remain near the top of the OVC – West Division. With conference powerhouse Murray State likely to take a step back this season, the Skyhawks look like the top team in the division, and should contend with Eastern Kentucky and Belmont for the conference title.

When all is said and done, another deep post-season run won’t be out of the equation come March for the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks.

– T.B.