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NJIT, Division I's last independent, reportedly joins Atlantic Sun Conference

The only -- and most likely final -- Division I basketball team without a conference has found one after a strong hoops season.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The NJIT Highlanders have found a home. The last Division I school left without a conference will reportedly join the Atlantic Sun Conference for this upcoming season.

The Highlanders men's hoops team turned heads last year by shocking Michigan in Ann Arbor and making a run to the semifinals of the CIT, their first ever postseason tournament. The Highlanders finished 21-12 and drew attention to their plight: As a Division I independent, the Highlanders had no practical way of making the NCAA Tournament and faced massive scheduling difficulties as they tried to find other teams willing to play non-conference games in the heart of the conference season.

Now those worries are over. Thanks to Northern Kentucky's departure from the Atlantic Sun to join the Horizon League, there was an open spot, and the Highlanders took it. It's an odd fit -- every other A-Sun team is south of the Mason-Dixon Line, with four of eight teams in Florida -- but it works for both parties, as the A-Sun finds an eighth member and the Highlanders find a real conference.

Since the NCAA now stipulates that teams joining Division I must do so with a conference affiliation, NJIT will be the last team ever to be a D-I independent, barring a rule change.

It's quite a turnaround for NJIT, who went 0-27 in 2008. For a few years, the Highlanders were in the "Great West Conference," less a conference and more a consortium of independent teams that wanted a conference. But that league never got full NCAA approval, and its winners never got NCAA Tournament autobids. The teams in that league joined new conferences when it disbanded, while NJIT never did. Now its search is over.