NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL at NJIT, 7:00 PM Eastern, No TV
The 2013-14 season is beginning to near its end. Tonight, the NJIT Highlanders, the lone independent school, will play their final game of the season. At 13-15 overall entering the game, NJIT will finish the year below .500 and will not even have a chance to play in the CBI or CIT. The Highlanders did manage to put together a slate of 29 games this season, but it was not easy for Jim Engles’ team. While at one time being an Independent was not so rare and scheduling, given that you could book games against other Independents right through into March, was not that difficult. This is simply no longer true and the Highlanders need to find themselves a home before next season. The team continues to look towards the Northeast and America East conferences and hopes to have something in place before the start of next season. The addition of lacrosse and a planned new arena to replace/upgrade the Fleisher Center in Newark (the school is currently soliciting quotes from architects for an approximately $80 million investment in an upgrade to its facility) should make NJIT more attractive to these leagues as the school moves forward.
In order to compile a schedule for this season, Jim Engles was forced to frontload most of the team’s games so they would be played in November and December when other schools were willing to play non-conference games. He scheduled the maximum number of non-Division 1 games (four) and played them all in February. Finally, the end of the calendar was filled in with a handful of games against MEAC teams — because the MEAC’s 13 team size guaranteed that one team would always have an open spot in its calendar. That is exactly how tonight’s game against North Carolina Central (actually one of two times the Highlanders played the Eagles this season) came about.
The NC Central Eagles enter tonight’s game at 21-5 overall and 12-1 in the MEAC, on pace to secure their first ever NCAA tournament bid if they can keep their winning ways up through the MEAC tournament. They have an RPI of 124, BPI of 117 and KenPom of 102, all tops by a wide margin in their conference. HoopsHD currently projects the Eagles solidly as a 15 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Eagles beat NJIT 71-55 back in mid-January at home and there is no reason tonight’s score will not be similar. Tonight’s game is NC Central’s second to last road game of the season, with only a trip to Norfolk State (arguably the second best MEAC team) left away from home. Of course, this may not be a road game at all. After all, this is a trip by a team from Durham, North Carolina to Newark, New Jersey . . . and as all college basketball teams know, New Jersey is the home away from home for at least one team from Durham.
NJIT has survived its first season of being the lone Independent. If the chips fall right, it will be their only season as such. While the college basketball season has come to an end for the Highlanders after tonight, the next few months could very well shape the direction of this program for years to come.