MARTIN, Tenn. –Two Southeastern Conference members, two Big 10 Conference schools, an Atlantic Coast Conference foe, the Preseason Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) and 10 opponents with postseason appearances last season highlight the 2013-14 University of Tennessee at Martin women’s basketball team’s 30-game regular-season schedule leading into the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
Fresh off a 19-15 mark and the program’s third consecutive OVC Tournament championship and NCAA Tournament, the Skyhawks return arguably the OVC’s most dynamic duo in league history with senior guards Heather Butler and Jasmine Newsome. The duo of Newsome (22.6 ppg) and Butler (22.4 ppg), boast the distinct mark of being the only pair of teammates to both rank in the nation’s top-10 in scoring while setting numerous UT Martin single-season and career records.
“The task of scheduling has gotten harder the last two years and that is a tribute to what these kids have done over the past three years,” said UT Martin head coach Kevin McMillan, who begins his fifth year at the helm in 2013-14. “The players have done this so many times, that they are accustomed to this level of competition. We hope that they are prepared to knock off a couple to boost our RPI and prepare ourselves for the postseason.”
The season opens with the first round of the 2013 Preseason WNIT on Saturday, Nov. 8, when the Skyhawks host Georgia State, a team that engineered a five-game turnaround in 2012-13.
Depending on the outcome of its opening game, a victory over the Panthers will send the Skyhawks to the northwest region of the country with a second round matchup against Gonzaga on Sunday, Nov. 10. Gonzaga is coming off its fifth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and its ninth-straight West Coast Conference crown. The Bulldogs are one of 10 institutions in the Preseason WNIT field that earned an NCAA Tournament berth last season.
The semifinals for the WNIT will be Thursday, Nov. 14 and the championship is set for Sunday, Nov. 17. Teams that lose in the first two rounds will play consolation games on the second weekend, Nov. 15-16. The championship game will be televised live on the CBS Sports Network.
“To play in the WNIT is a very prestigious honor for our kids, this program and our university,” said McMillan. “There are a number of postseason teams in the tournament which will make for a very interesting bracket. The experience will be great for our program and we hope fans pack the stands and help us move throughout the tournament field.”
After completion of the Preseason WNIT, the Skyhawks will hit the road to face familiar Sun Belt foe Arkansas State, marking the third consecutive season that the Skyhawks and Red Wolves have faced off.
The Skyhawks will then return home on Nov. 23 looking to avenge a late-run rally which the University of Missouri used to knock off UT Martin last season in Columbia. Mizzou is fresh off an appearance in the 2013 WNIT and an appearance in the SEC Tournament, while returning their two leading scorers.
UT Martin will play host to the University of Evansville two days later on Nov. 25 before hitting the road over the Thanksgiving holiday with a trip to Pittsburgh, Pa. for an appearance in the Robert Morris Tournament on Nov. 29-30.
The Skyhawks will join host Robert Morris, Winthrop and Northern Kentucky in the tournament field. Host Robert Morris suffered a difficult season in 2012-13 but has appeared in five postseason tournaments in the past seven years. Winthrop (WNIT) and Northern Kentucky (Women’s Basketball Invitational) both saw action in postseason tournaments last season.
“We will see a difficult slate of games when we travel to the Robert Morris Tournament,” said McMillan. “Winthrop made a postseason appearance and returns everyone from last year and will prove to be a difficult draw for us. Northern Kentucky and Robert Morris will make for a tough tournament in a part of the country that we haven’t played in recent history.”
The schedule continues to prove difficult as the Skyhawks hit the road for games at Alabama (Dec. 4) and WNIT participant Illinois State (Dec. 8) before taking a breather for finals week on the UT Martin campus.
Four games sandwiched around the Christmas holiday will see the Skyhawks face off against Big 10 powers Ohio State (Dec. 17) and Illinois (Dec. 21) before traveling south on I-57 to Carbondale as UT Martin plays the Southern Illinois Salukis on Dec. 23.
Following a short Christmas break, UT Martin will make the trek to Tallahassee, Fla. in the final nonconference tune up before OVC play with a clash against NCAA Tournament qualifier and ACC foe Florida State on Dec. 28.
The Skyhawks will open the OVC slate with a three-game road swing which will see stops at Jacksonville State (Dec. 30), Murray State (Jan. 4) and Austin Peay (Jan. 6).
UT Martin will return home after a 12 game absence to host OVC East and WBI participant Belmont on Jan. 11. The Skyhawks will then shift their focus to interdivision rival Southeast Missouri on Jan. 13.
After hitting the road to take on Morehead State on Jan. 18, the Skyhawks will return home for a season-long three-game home streak which will see the likes of Tennessee Tech (Jan. 20), SIU Edwardsville (Jan. 25) and Eastern Illinois (Jan. 27) grace the friendly confines of the Kathleen and Tom Elam Center.
The Skyhawks will then hit the road for a three-game road trip against WBI participant Eastern Kentucky on Feb. 3 before turning to West division rivals SIU Edwardsville (Jan. 25) and Southeast Missouri (Jan. 27).
UT Martin will close out the regular season with three of their final four games at home. Tennessee State (Feb. 17) and Murray State (Feb. 22) will make the trek to Martin before the Skyhawks make their final trip of the season to Eastern Illinois on Feb. 27. The Skyhawks round out the regular season with a March 1 showdown against Austin Peay to close out the home slate.
“The OVC schedule is tough in terms of travel,” said McMillan. “But you can’t change the schedule and we will use our nonconference slate to prepare us for the tough conference grind through the months of January and February. Like in years past, there are several teams within the league that will challenge you on any given night.”
The 2014 OVC Tournament is slated for March 5-8. Once again, the league’s tournament will be held at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn. where the top eight teams will clinch a berth.
“This schedule is very similar as in years past when you see the ACC, Big 10 and SEC,” McMillan stated. “There are a lot of teams that we schedule to prepare for postseason time. We just hope that this is the year that we can peak even higher.”