The independents are dead. Long live the independents.
Whereas once independents were far more than an exception in college basketball, the ranks have dwindled in recent years to near extinction, as well documented for some time.
The lone independent the last couple years has been New Jersey Institute of Technology, New Jersey Tech, NJIT. By any name, it has one of those perfectly obscure independent names, carrying on the tradition of indies of the past like Brooklyn College, Utica and U.S. International. As the lone independent left, though, it’s sometimes hard for the Highlanders to get so much as a mention in preseason annuals, much less a real chance at postseason glory.
Add in that the team went 1-30 a couple years ago and had a well-known 51-game losing streak, and NJIT’s 72-70 win at Michigan will almost certainly go down as the biggest upset of this season and one of the biggest in a long time. This one is going to remembered for a long, long time.
It’s not that the Highlanders aren’t decent-they almost beat Marquette already this year and they won at Duquesne, though again, given their independence, very few know about it. But in a college basketball landscape that features many underdogs that we treasure, NJIT is the ultimate underdog. The Highlanders have had a hard road since deciding to make the move to the big time, don’t even have a conference tournament to possibly play their way into the NCAA Tournament, and they’ve suffered some scars because of it. Their coach Jim Engle has stuck with the program through some tough times when he could’ve easily jumped ship, and yesterday he was deservingly rewarded.
Games like this are the ones that prove anything truly can happen in this sport. While Michigan decides on which upgrade to make next to its facilities or how much money it should pay to cover cost of attendance for its athletes, the Highlanders are just hoping to at some point get a chance at Michigan in the NCAA Tournament. In the meantime, beating the Wolverines on their home court and creating one of the season’s biggest regular season moments will have to suffice.
Saturday’s action: The day was about upsets, as well as one particular matchup of superpowers. Phil Kasiecki has his recap of some of the biggest games, and here is more below:
- Wisconsin-Green Bay picked up a huge road win, downing Miami (Fla.) 68-55. UWGB had just been defeated by Georgia State by 24 points about 40 hours earlier, but came out with a far more inspired effort in this one. Carrington Love was the star with 20. As for the Hurricanes, this team has been highly fortified by the three-pointer in its red-hot start. Today, that swung the other way, as Miami was just 5 of 20 from deep.
- Few schools may have a more confusing identity than South Carolina-Upstate, but the Spartans are doing their best to change that. USC Upstate, as it’s known (that’s USC as in South Carolina, not Southern California), won at an ACC school for the second year in a row, defeating Georgia Tech 59-54. Blond-haired guard Ty Greene had 16 points for the Spartans, who just a year ago won at Virginia Tech.
- Continuing the theme of recently new Division I members winning, North Florida won at Purdue 73-70. The Ospreys-one of the most unique nicknames in Division I-trailed by seven with just over three minutes left but came back. UNF let one get away against Northwestern a couple weeks ago, so this was sweet redemption. Obviously, this is a poor loss for the Boilermakers. And-oh yeah-about that Atlantic Sun Conference? North Florida also is a member.
- St. John’s won at Syracuse, 69-57. (Notice the theme of road wins, which makes these results even more impressive) Huge win for Steve Lavin’s team, and score one for the old/new Big East. D’Angelo Harrison and Phil Greene combined for 42 points and Chris Obekpa had 16 rebounds.
- Arizona clawed back to defeat Gonzaga in overtime, 66-63. The Bulldogs had answers for the host’s runs every time, until the end of regulation and in overtime, when the Wildcats tightened the screws on defense/the Zags went stagnant on offense, take your pick. Still, a tremendous game that lived up to expectations.
- Virginia went into Richmond and pulled away from VCU down the stretch to win 74-57. UVA outscored the Rams 15-2 in the final seven minutes and shot 68.2% for the game. Another terrific statement win for the Cavaliers, while it’s starting to feel like we had VCU overrated this year. Again.
- Wisconsin slogged past Marquette 49-38. The Badgers struggled against a tightly packed 2-3 zone and have shown in their last two games that even a Final 4 favorite can have things it needs to work on.
- Butler won again and topped another major conference team, this time defeating Northwestern 65-56. Kellen Dunham had 19 points.
- How does Wichita State respond after its first loss in 36 regular season games? By taking apart Saint Louis 81-52. Understand, the Billikens are not very good right now, but an encouraging development for the Shockers: center Rauno Nurger scores 15 points.
- Northern Iowa is 8-0 now, but had to work to get there after George Mason took the Panthers to overtime in Cedar Falls before falling 71-65. UNI has a lot of depth and it paid off handsomely here; the Panthers got 42 points from their bench.
- South Carolina destroyed Oklahoma State 75-49. The Pokes came into this one at 7-0, but yikes. 24.6% shooting will make teams look this bad. Duane Notice was good again for the Gamecocks with 20 points.
- Dayton gave Eastern Michigan its first loss, the Flyers notching a 73-64 win at home. Dayton shot 44 free throws to EMU’s 17.
- Another team losing its first: UC Davis. Idaho defeated the Aggies 79-71 despite 33 points from Corey Hawkins.
- Temple nipped La Salle 58-57 in a delightful Big 5 game at the Palestra, complete with streamers thrown after each teams’ first baskets and then the opposing team stepping across the free throw line to nullify its free shots after each ensuing technical foul. Looked like a wonderful atmosphere.
- Another historic rivalry is Canisius and Niagara. The two teams met for the 177th time, with the Golden Griffins winning on the road at Niagara 77-64.
- Tulane was blown out at home in its opener but now has won seven in a row, including a 59-54 win over Mississippi State on Saturday.
- Seton Hall impressed again by taking care of business easily and quickly in its state rivalry game over Rutgers. Isaiah Whitehead had 25 points in the Pirates’ 81-54 win. This is a team to keep an eye on.
- N.C. State took over in the second half and earned a 78-65 victory over Wake Forest in an early-season ACC game.
- Tennessee held off a late charge by Kansas State for a 65-64 win. Two things are becoming apparent: 1) despite all the graduation losses and defections, the Volunteers are still a tough out this year, and 2) the Wildcats are a frustrating team to try to figure out. The most likely diagnosis at this point is this is just a mediocre team, but on the other hand, one would think a team that was in the NCAA Tournament last year and can nearly take out Arizona should be better than that.
- Northeastern finally put away Western Michigan for an 81-69 triumph in a match between two quality teams. Hoopville’s Phil Kasiecki was there.
- New Mexico got back to looking a little more like itself with a 63-46 win at Valparaiso, giving the Crusaders just their second loss in 10 games.
- New Mexico State also got back on the right side of things with a 71-64 win over UTEP. The Aggies and Miners split their home-and-home series. Another quiet night for Vince Hunter (8 points), while the win for NMSU is all the more impressive after receiving some bad news Saturday (see Side Dishes below).
- Evansville is now 6-1 after an 89-62 blowout of IUPUI. The Purple Aces’ only loss was a narrow one to UW-Green Bay.
- Oregon State won at Portland 65-58 in overtime. This is actually a little bit of an upset; the Pilots are arguably the better team overall and were at home, but shot an unsightly 27.3%. Good work by the Beavers rallying from a seven-point second half deficit. Thinking Wayne Tinkle is going to make some good things happen there.
- Finally, early into the morning, Boise State picked up an impressive 82-71 win at St. Mary’s. This was an eye-opener. The Broncos couldn’t handle Brad Waldow, as expected (career-high 29 points), but it still didn’t matter as Boise shot 58.2%. It wasn’t even a three-point attack; the Broncos’ guard-friendly attack made just six triples, with most of the damage by Derrick Marks (22 points) coming inside the arc. Solid win for BSU, while a disappointing home loss for the Gaels.
- New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies announced on Saturday that star guard Daniel Mullings will be on the shelf for a while after breaking a finger in his right hand in practice Thursday. Mullings will have surgery on the hand and will be out a minimum of eight weeks. A tough, tough loss for the Aggies, and it marked the second straight day Menzies has had to relay bad news about injuries. On Friday it was announced that center Tshilidzi Nephawe would be out an estimated four weeks due to a foot injury, and that freshman center Tanveer Bhullar will be out for six weeks due to an ankle injury.
- The Big 10 confirmed on Saturday that it plans to have its conference tournament at Madison Square Garden in 2018. Silly how this conference and so many others continue to thumb their noses at the core of their fan bases-good luck finding students at, say, Iowa or Minnesota who can afford to go to the Big 10 tourney now. But again, it’s all about student-athlete well-being, not about continuing to build TV networks. Or so we’re told.
San Diego State at Washington Huskies are coming off a Wooden Legacy tourney title, though some luster has come off that with UTEP’s struggles this past week. Intriguing matchup to see how the Aztecs handle by Robert Upshaw inside.
Creighton at Nebraska (7 p.m. EST, BTN) The Bluejays generally have dominated this series over the last 15 years.
Colorado at Georgia The Buffs have been hot and cold so far this year. This would be a solid road win.
Florida Gulf Coast at Massachusetts Chance for the Atlantic Sun to continue a big weekend.
Towson vs. Georgetown, UNC-Charlotte vs. George Washington BB&T Classic. Pair of nice matchups. Towson has won seven straight since an opening loss to Alabama, so while the Hoyas should win, this could be interesting. GW had its signature win of last season at this event when Maurice Creek hit a buzzer-beater against Maryland.
Mississippi at Oregon (4 p.m. EST, FS1) Ole Miss had trouble with TCU’s slower-paced game on Thursday. Let’s see how they handle the running Ducks.
Have a terrific Sunday.