Revisiting the Wildly Upsetting Weekend: Yale, Green Bay, NJIT, USC Upstate & North Florida

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 8th, 2014

It looked like the upset of the weekend on Friday night: 3.5 seconds on the clock, Yale down two to Connecticut; junior guard Jack Montague slipped to the far corner in front of his own bench, caught the baseline inbounds-pass and drilled a game-winning three-pointer to knock off the defending champions in their own building. The loss was the Huskies’ first in 68 games against intrastate opponents, and the shot – complete with frenzied, ecstatic hugging and hands-on-head dejection – was something of an iconic early season moment: six-foot-nothing Ivy League guard with a Shakespearean last name hits clutch shot to upend a dynastic blue-blood program.

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Yale beat UConn on Friday night, but that was only the beginning. (Fred Beckham / AP)

Little did we know, the best was yet to come. From noon ET to a little after 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, four more substantial, O26-over-Power-Five upsets would take place, including one truly for the ages. Let’s revisit and lends some perspective to each of them.

Yale over Connecticut, 45-44 – KenPom win probability: 81.1% UConn; Spread: UConn (-8.5). Yale coach James Jones said afterwards: “I told the guys in the locker room, no matter how old they get, if they get Alzheimer’s or dementia, they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.” However hilarious and slightly morbid a thought, the 16th-year head man is right – the finish was spectacular, and the outcome awfully impressive considering that Connecticut’s Ryan Boatright played nearly the entire game. There had been a growing consensus that Yale could beat the Huskies if Boatright didn’t play – he injured his ankle against Texas and his status was questionable on Friday night – but when the point guard suited up (and was throwing down pre-game dunks beforehand), expectations for the Bulldogs were diminished. Still, Yale had already established itself as the second-best team in the Ivy League; a tough, well-balanced, top-100 KenPom unit capable of hanging with Tournament-caliber opponents. And it showed as much in taking it to the Huskies from opening tip, exploiting defensive lapses, outmuscling Connecticut on the glass (Yale collected an incredible 95.8 percent of its defensive rebound opportunities) and making smart decisions in the game’s waning moments. Big man Justin Sears led the charge with 12 points and 15 rebounds (eight offensive) and Montague sealed the deal in the memorable final seconds.

NJIT over Michigan, 72-70 – KenPom win probability: 97.5% Michigan; Spread: Michigan (-24.5). This is one for the ages. Seven years ago, NJIT, a program still transitioning to Division-I, finished a nation-worst 0-29 and managed only twice to finish within single-digits of its opponents. The year after, head coach Jim Engles took over and it won a game, followed by 10 the next year, and by 2012-13 the Highlanders were a 16-win team sitting atop the Great West Conference standings – a proud accomplishment, even if the league wasn’t NCAA-Tournament eligible. Two years later, Engles’ group might be the best it’s ever been on the basketball court, even if it’s in a more precarious situation off of it; NJIT now sits as the only independent program in America following the Great West’s disbandment. The point of all this background information is to highlight just how unexpected, how amazing, how fairytale-like it was, when the Highlanders – ranked 293rd by KenPom – went to Ann Arbor and beat 17th-ranked Michigan. Vegas had NJIT pegged as 24.5-point underdogs, making it the biggest upset (spread-wise) since Gardner-Webb shocked Kentucky back in 2007.  “We’re trying to get into the America East or the Northeast [Conference], but I want to get in the Big Ten now. Open up a spot for us,” Engles joked after the game. The Highlanders shot an absurd 11-of-17 from behind the arc, including a couple of clutch triples from leading-scorer Damon Lynn (20 points), and gashed the Wolverines’ defense to the tune of 1.22 points per possession. It’s safe to say that no one – not even the coach himself – saw this result coming, and it’s probably just as safe to assume that it will stand as the biggest upset of 2014-15 by season’s end.

NJIT pulled the stunner of the season in Ann Arbor on Saturday. (Duane Burleson | Getty Images)

NJIT pulled the stunner of the season in Ann Arbor on Saturday. (Duane Burleson | Getty Images)

USC-Upstate over Georgia Tech, 59-54 – KenPom win probability: 86.3% Georgia Tech; Spread: N/A. Despite ending around the same time as NJIT-Michigan (thus flying way under the radar), this was also a notable outcome. Georgia Tech entered the contest at 6-1 and was off to a good start with early wins over Georgia and Rhode Island. USC-Upstate, despite losing star Torrey Craig to graduation this offseason, also came in playing fairly well (7-2), but was assumed unlikely to produce enough offense to beat the defensively-stout Yellow Jackets. Great offense proved unnecessary, however, as the Spartans used their aggressive zone defense to stifle Georgia Tech and force 17 turnovers, including 10 steals, en route to a five-point, come-from-behind victory.

Green Bay over Miami, 68-55 – KenPom win probability: 83.8% Miami; Spread: Miami (-11.5). Last December, Green Bay welcomed eventual #1 seed Virginia to the Resch Center and won by three, spoiling Tony Bennett’s homecoming; exactly one year later to the day, the Phoenix went on the road and knocked off another ACC opponent, this time in convincing – and even more surprising – fashion. The Horizon League favorites had lost by 24 to Georgia State just two days earlier, and the 15th-ranked Hurricanes were coming off an impressive win over Illinois in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But none of that mattered on Saturday, as Green Bay opened up a lead midway through the first half that it never gave back. Keifer Sykes was knocking down transition threes, Jordan Fouse was swatting shots and Brian Wardle’s bunch remained aggressive to the very end, utilizing its athleticism on both ends of the court to counter-punch every time Miami tried to generate momentum. The Hurricanes entered the contest among the best-shooting and most efficient offenses in America, but Green Bay – currently ranked 23rd in defensive efficiency – held Jim Larranaga’s club to just 0.81 PPP on 32.8 percent shooting. An upset? Yes, but the Phoenix has long established itself as one of the best mid-major units in the country; hammering Miami only reaffirmed that fact… and perhaps resurrected its at-large hopes.

North Florida over Purdue, 73-70 – KenPom win probability: N/A; Spread: N/A. The Ospreys pushed Florida for 40 minutes last season and nearly took out Northwestern last month, but Purdue? In West Lafayette? The Boilermakers feature the 17th-tallest frontcourt in college basketball and had just beaten Missouri, BYU and North Carolina State over its last three games. North Florida was supposed to be a break, the first of three “easy” home games ahead of Vanderbilt next Saturday and Notre Dame the Saturday after that. But Matt Driscoll’s crew had other plans, as it drilled 10-of-22 three-pointers – including Dallas Moore’s (24 points) clutch corner three with under a minute left – earned 25 trips to the free throw line, and edged Purdue by three for what goes down as the biggest win in program history. “It’s a great day to be an Osprey, “ Driscoll said afterward. Indeed.

Tommy Lemoine (250 Posts)

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