Saturday saw the college hoops upset of the year when No. 17 Michigan was outplayed by unheralded NJIT, as the preposterously hot Highlanders knocked off the Wolverines 72-70 in Ann Arbor.
Before today, there were two notable things about NJIT: That the Highlanders went 0-29 in 2007-08, the only 0-29 year in college hoops history (they followed it up with a 1-30 season) and that they're the only one of the 351 teams in Division I without a conference. On Saturday, they beat one of the top 25 teams in the country on the road.
The upset loss comes in spite of the fact that Michigan played kinda well on offense! Caris LeVert went off, scoring 32 points on 18 shots, and the Wolverines hit 45 percent of their threes.
But NJIT's offensive performance was phenomenal: they hit 11-of-17 threes, and scored easily inside against porous Michigan interior D. Damon Lynn had 20, including a variety of circus shots, and Ky Howard had a career high 17. The HIghlanders scored 1.5 points per possession in the second half. THAT IS VERY GOOD.
The loss is a huge embarrassment for Michigan. They just lost to a 2-5 team that played UMass-Lowell twice... and lost both times. It's the biggest upset in terms of point spread in seven years:
NJIT's win over Michigan as a 24.5 point dog is the biggest upset in terms of the spread since 2007 (Gardner Webb +26 at Kentucky in 2007).— Bet Labs Software (@Bet_Labs) December 6, 2014
But let us celebrate NJIT for coming through on the biggest stage they've ever had. It's not just that NJIT has never beaten an opponent as good as Michigan -- they haven't *played* an opponent as good as Michigan. In their seven years as a Division I program, Michigan is the first team ranked in the top 25 NJIT has played. And they beat them.
Before today, the Highlanders had only played two teams ranked in the top 50 on KenPom -- No. 16 Georgetown in 2011-2012, and No. 46 Villanova in 2012-13. Their best win was in 2012-2013 against No. 156 Army. Michigan entered today ranked No. 20.
Jim Engles deserves major credit for what he's done at NJIT. He has to recruit players who know that they will never play in an NCAA Tournament -- every other team has the prospect of a conference tournament, he does not, meaning they'd have to pull the incredibly unlikely feat of earning an at-large bid to participate -- and he's the only coach in the country who has to schedule 29 non-conference games.
It would've been enough if he just made a competent Division I team after taking over a squad that literally lost every game the year before he got there. They went 13-16 last year, and beat Duquesne on the road this year. Not bad, considering the scenario.
But Engles did more. He got a group of guys capable of playing with and beating Michigan, at Michigan. And that's amazing. Hopefully a conference takes a chance on the Highlanders now.