College basketball is back.
For the first time in 244 days, the Pitt Panthers return to the floor in meaningful competition. Pitt defeated Clarion and Edinboro in exhibition play by 52 and 39 points, respectively.
The Panthers welcome the University of Tennessee Martin to the Petersen Events Center to officially begin the 2022-23 season.
Here are five things to know ahead of Pitt’s against the UT Martin Skyhawks.
News Faces in New Places
The journey into Jeff Capel’s fifth season leading the Panthers begins with new and healthy faces with the goal of reaching greater heights in the Capel era. Pitt struggled to an 11-21 overall record and 6-14 in conference action but did defeat the NCAA runner-up North Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill in the Panthers’ most complete performance of the year.
“I’m excited about where we are,” Capel said after the win against Edinboro. “We’ve been able to get to this point without hopefully any significant injuries that’s going to be for a year or anything like that. Guys have had great attitudes, and we’ve worked.”
Junior forward and transfer Blake Hinson averaged 24.5 points in the two exhibition games and looks to be an instant contributor to the Panthers on the offensive end. Hinson has not played college ball since the 2019-20 season with Ole Miss, transferring to Iowa State the following season and not playing the past two years. He averaged 9.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in two years with the Rebels.
Colgate transfer and Lincoln Park High School graduate Nelly Cummings brings experience and quickness to the Panthers’ backcourt. Cummings is a strong ball handler and dynamic scorer averaging a team-high 14.7 points per game in 32 appearances. The First Team All-Patriot League selection and over 1,000-point scorer registered 20 points against Wisconsin in the first round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament before choosing Pitt for his final year of eligibility.
Next Man Up
After the final exhibition game, Capel announced junior forward John Hugley would not be available in the opener against UT Martin. Hugley has been recovering from a knee injury. Fellow junior William Jeffress is also out for Monday’s game.
The Panthers will also be without four-star freshman guard Dior Johnson. Johnson, the highest-ranked signee in the Capel era placed No. 35 by ESPN’s ratings, was suspended indefinitely. He is dealing with an ongoing legal battle including one charge of Simple Assault (misdemeanor) and one strangulation charge (felony). Four other charges were also dropped stemming from an alleged incident on Sept. 5 and 6.
Nike Sibande returns to the court one year after tearing his ACL against Gannon on Nov. 1 in exhibition play. The 6-foot-4 redshirt senior guard scored 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field and knocked down three triples. Sibande’s ability to hit the three-ball will be important to the Panthers’ team success from behind the arc. The team shot under 32% from three and subtracted its top four leaders from deep (Horton, Ezeakudo, Gueye, and Odukale).
Incoming bigs Federiko Federiko and Guillermo Diaz Graham are two players to watch for in replacing Hugley’s minutes and rebounds. A sophomore from Helsinki, Finland, and First Love Christian Academy in Washington, Pennsylvania, Federiko averaged 11.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks in one year at Northern Oklahoma. The 6-foot-11 center totaled 10 double-doubles and was an NJCAA Honorable Mention All-America selection. Diaz Graham, standing at seven foot, recorded 12.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, and over two blocks per game at IMG Academy last year.
Eye on the SKYhawks
The Skyhawks enter Pittsburgh with one of the best nicknames in college basketball but struggled considerably during the 2021-22 campaign. UT Martin finished 8-22 overall and 4-14 in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC).
UT Martin returns dynamic senior guard KJ Simon who led the team in points (16.9), blocks (1.4), and steals (1.6).
Graduate guard Parker Stewart returns to the Petersen Events Center as a member of the Skyhawks. In what might seem like ages ago, Stewart played at Pitt for head coach Kevin Stallings during the 2017-18 season. Stewart was second in the ACC in three-point percentage (.425) and was fifth best in the conference averaging 2.7 threes per game.
After leaving Pitt, Stewart transferred to UT Martin and sat out the 2018-19 season. He was named All-Ohio Valley Conference second team and All-Newcomer the following year playing for his father Anthony. Parker sat out the 2020-21 season after the unexpected passing of his dad at 50 years old. Stewart transferred to Indiana and wore No. 45 in honor of his father, averaging 6.3 points and making a team-high 53 triples. He returned to UT Martin this season to suit up for the Skyhawks.
UT Martin averaged just under 69 points per game and allowed 73.5 points to their opponents in 2021-22 including 41.5% shooting from the floor. The team turned the ball over 13.3 times per contest and struggled to shoot the three at 29.9%.
Pitt is favored by 8.5 points in Monday’s latest odds. The Panthers opened as 15.5-point favorites with the line shifting considerably closer to game time.
Pitt finished the 2021-22 season 15-17 against the spread and closed the year 0-5 ATS.
The over/under for the game is set at 140 points and Pitt is -400 on the money line with UT Martin checking in at +305.
UT Martin has struggled to cover on the road but was 5-2 ATS when shooting better than 44% from the floor. The Skyhawks were 4-5 against the spread when scoring 68 points or more.
Broadcast, Radio Info
The Pitt and UT Martin game will air on the ACC Network Extra Monday at 7 p.m.
The action can also be heard live on sports radio 93.7 The Fan.
Pitt hosts the West Virginia Mountaineers in The Backyard Brawl Friday night at the Petersen Events Center. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.