Oh hello there. Long time no see. Remember me? I’m Wilder. Let me jog your memory… Crazy eyes? Wears a lot of bow ties? 1/2 of the dysfunctional duo that covered UK Hoops for four seasons? Yeah, that’s me. As you
may probably don’t know, I retired from KSR (with my colleague Hayley Minogue at an insane Tin Roof retirement party *pictured above*) in January of this year because well, I graduated from the University of Kentucky and had to go “be an adult.” I lived in New York City for a few months, and now I’m in the Dirty South of Georgia, working as the Assistant Director of Media Relations for the Atlantic Sun Conference. I’m here today to help preview UK’s match-up with NJIT, as the Highlanders are the newest member of the A-Sun, and since I’m KSR’s resident A-Sun connection well… you get it. Before I get started, can I just say: damn, it feels good to randomly bold a sentence again.
Now, about those Highlanders. This is their first season in the A-Sun after spending several years as a D-1 Independent. You may remember them from last year’s shocking upset victory over then-No. 17 Michigan on the road, or perhaps you know that they once endured a grueling, record 51-game losing streak from 2007-2009 while transitioning to Division I. Those times are over however, and now NJIT is garnering national attention as a legitimate mid-major threat in the world of college basketball.
In anticipation for its first year in the A-Sun, NJIT landed two players on the Preseason All-Conference Team in Damon Lynn and Winfield Willis. The Highlanders were picked to finish third in the league behind North Florida and FGCU, despite the fact some national analysts are predicting them in the NCAA Tournament. NJIT is ranked No. 24 in the the first CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Poll of the season after a program-record 21 wins last year.
Speaking of Lynn, he is the kind of player that has that “opponent that gets red hot in Rupp Arena” quality to him. You know how that always happens? The Wildcats have to guard him from the three-point line as the junior led the NCAA last season in three-point attempts with 350. As a team the Highlanders ranked 22nd in the nation in three-pointers (279) a year ago and return 100% of that offensive production.
Because of the odd/random schedule making that had to occur as the nation’s lone team without a league schedule last season, the Highlanders are used to playing on the road. They also return four double-digit scorers from 2014-15 in Lynn (17.5 PPG), Willis (12.2 PPG) Tim Coleman (11.5 PPG) and Ky Howard (10.9)…Five if you count Terrence Smith who averaged 12.2 PPG two seasons ago before sitting out last year with a fracture.
Coach Jim Engles is in his eighth season in Newark (and yes, he survived the 1-30 season his first year) and was named the John McLendon National Coach of the Year earlier this spring for turning around the program and bringing the Highlanders into the national spotlight.
There are several reasons this game could be closer than expected in Rupp Arena. The Highlanders are a veteran squad, while the Cats are still getting their bearings on a brand new roster. Kentucky also played a game last night, while NJIT should have fresh legs for tonight’s match-up. NJIT plays a Princeton-style offense, one that can be tough to prepare for early in the season and on a day’s notice. And maybe most importantly… Matt Jones is on the call tonight so he can’t get up and take a shower if things get too close for comfort… Expect a high-scoring affair as the Highlander offense is versatile and has several prolific scorers on their squad.
Before I leave, I’d just like to say thanks for letting me come on here to write again. Despite the fact I am a KSR retiree I still listen to the radio show faithfully every morning, read the site everyday and Josephine is the GOAT. That is all and Go Cats (also go A-Sun… North Florida beat Illinois last night #ASunMBB). If you feel inclined, follow me on Twitter @Wilder_Treadway or @ASun_Wilder.