1. So, um, that happened.
There's no way to sugarcoat it: this was a really, really terrible loss for Michigan.
This was supposed to be an automatic victory for the Wolverines -- a victory Michigan reportedly paid $92,000 to acquire. NJIT was ranked No. 293 out of 351 D-1 schools on KenPom and had already suffered losses to the likes of Albany and UMass-Lowell ... twice. And NJIT is a fledgling basketball program. The Highlanders didn't make the jump to D-1 until the 2006-07 season, posted a miserable 1-59 record over the course of two seasons shortly thereafter, and had never played a ranked opponent before, let alone beaten one. The Wolverines were supposed to coast to a 20-plus-point win.
But that's not what happened.
What happened was NJIT shooting the lights out, making 11 of 17 three-pointers en route to a 70.7 eFG%, and shocking Michigan with a 72-70 upset win in Ann Arbor.
This is arguably Michigan's worst or most humiliating loss -- however you want to classify it -- this millennium. The KenPom database dates back to the 2001-02 season and never before had Michigan lost to a team ranked as low as No. 293 in his system. The previous worst was a road loss to No. 282 Harvard early in the 2007-08 season -- John Beilein's first at Michigan. But that was a Michigan team that mustered only 10 wins all season, which matched a program low since 1982, not one ranked No. 17 in the AP Poll.
This was bad, bad, bad. It'll very likely be the biggest upset in all of college basketball this season -- NJIT had only a 2.5-percent chance to win per KenPom -- and it'll certainly be a giant blemish on Michigan's resume when we arrive at Selection Sunday in March.
2. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap.
This wasn't an upset where the favorite played very poorly and down to the underdog, which is what happened when Michigan lost in the final seconds to Charlotte in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship game last season. This was an upset where the underdog rose to the occasion and performed at a level they had never before reached.
Prior to Saturday, NJIT was 290th in adjusted offensive efficiency, but you never would have guessed that if this weekend was the first time you'd seen them play this season. The Highlanders had an offensive explosion. They averaged 1.22 points per possession, including an astronomical 1.45 points per possession in the second half, against a Michigan defense that had not surrendered more than 1.05 points per possession.
There were two key reasons why NJIT torched Michigan's defense. First, the Highlanders uncharacteristically took care of the basketball in the second half. Few teams have been sloppier with the basketball than NJIT, and it was easy to see why when the Highlanders committed 11 turnovers in the first half. But, after the intermission, they tightened up and turned it over only twice, which provided them with more looks at the rim. And this leads to the second reason why NJIT burned Michigan: the Highlanders couldn't miss. They made 11 of 17 three-pointers (64.7 pct.) despite having converted only 33.1 percent of their shots from behind the arc beforehand. They were absolutely on fire.
And NJIT heated up when they absolutely needed to. With 6:17 left in the game, Michigan had just reeled off a frenetic 9-0 run thanks to three straight triples to regain the lead, 55-53. This is when I thought NJIT would start to crack because they had just seen their somewhat sizable lead disappear in a flash. It seemed order had been restored. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Instead, NJIT scored on their next seven possessions, tallying 17 points in that span, to grab a four-point lead with two minutes remaining and inform the nation that this upset bid wasn't slipping through their fingers.
This wasn't just a result of poor Michigan defense either. Don't get me wrong: for a good portion of the second half, NJIT sliced and diced Michigan's defense, using ball screens at the top of the key to penetrate the paint for routine layups. But, during that pivotal stretch where the Highlanders scored 17 points on seven straight possessions, they were draining step-back three-pointers and contested, off-balanced runners in the lane. At that point, all Michigan could do was throw up their hands in the air in wonderment.
Or just tip their caps.
3. This marred a scintillating offensive display from Caris LeVert.
If there was one bright spot for Michigan, it was Caris LeVert. There had been some doubt about whether LeVert could step into the role as Michigan's go-to offensive player that Nik Stauskas vacated or whether he would always be more of a secondary scorer. We learned on Saturday that LeVert can put the team on his back if needed.
When Michigan trailed, 53-46, with 7:53 left, LeVert, who had scored 14 points, realized he needed to take over the game as Michigan's offense sputtered if the Wolverines were going to have any shot at avoiding the upset. So, on the next possession, LeVert took a handoff from Derrick Walton, Jr. and banked in a three-pointer. The next trip down the court, LeVert returned the favor and found Walton on the left wing in transition for a three-pointer. Then LeVert made another triple from the left wing. Then two free throws. Then another three from the left wing. Then a dribble pull-up just inside the free-throw line. Then two more free throws. And then another three from the left wing. In a span of six minutes, LeVert scored 18 points, knocking down all five field goals and all four free throws he fired, and added an assist for good measure.
The final result for LeVert was a remarkably efficient 32 points on 20 shot equivalents. Not only was this a new career high for LeVert -- in fact, the 25 points he scored in the second half against NJIT matched the most he'd ever scored in an entire game -- his 32 points were the most any Wolverine has scored in a single game under Beilein, besting the previous mark set by Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Manny Harris (30).
It was an incredible offensive performance. Unfortunately, it still wasn't enough.
4. Zak Irvin and Kameron Chatman on the other hand...
This was Zak Irvin's worst performance of the season. I don't know if Irvin enjoyed himself too much on Friday night or if he's just not much of a morning person, but he was absolutely sluggish in this noon game. Sure, his shot wasn't falling as he made only two of his 11 field-goal attempts, but his lackadaisical effort was what I noticed most. Accordingly, he was completely out of the flow of the offense, even standing to the side for multiple possessions, and allowed too much penetration defensively. Irvin can be one heck of a gunner, but I fear, in games where his shot is just off, Irvin will contribute little else on the court. That must change. Maybe a Red Bull or two in the morning will help.
But it was Kameron Chatman that disappointed me the most. One game after he kept Michigan's offense afloat in the first half against Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone and finished with 10 points and nine boards, he put up a clunker. He was 0-for-6 from the field, which included two shots that were rejected, grabbed only two rebounds, and failed to register a single steal. And what makes this stat line so much worse is that this was a game in which Chatman should have thrived. Points in the paint and rebounds shouldn't have been hard to come by against NJIT, which is one of the shortest teams in the nation, and opportunities for the lengthy Chatman to get steals should have been plentiful. Instead, Chatman struggled mightily and looked out of sorts. I know Chatman has only eight games of college basketball experience, but the game just seems like it's moving too fast for him, even against opponents he should be able to overmatch.
5. Don't cancel the season just yet, though.
The season isn't over. The sky isn't falling. Michigan isn't crumbling into tiny pieces.
It's only December 8th, and it's only one loss. A bad loss, yes, but only one loss.
There's still lots of basketball to be played, and, if we've learned anything in the past seven years, it's that you should never doubt Beilein, especially as the season progresses:
If you are looking for a coach whose team typically does get better later in the year, look no further than Michigan head coach John Beilein. In 8 of the last 10 seasons and for six straight years, Beilein's teams have seen their Pyth. Winning Percentage improve after the opening two months.
John Beilein Off Nov/Dec Off Later Def Nov/Dec Def Later Pyth Nov/Dec Pyth Later 2004 West Virginia 106.0 107.7 98.1 96.7 0.6884 0.7508 2005 West Virginia 114.8 115.6 92.1 97.2 0.9053 0.8554 2006 West Virginia 115.6 117.8 96.6 93.9 0.8625 0.9108 2007 West Virginia 112.8 119.7 85.3 97.2 0.9460 0.8938 2008 Michigan 105.1 104.5 103.7 95.5 0.5348 0.7170 2009 Michigan 112.0 111.4 97.3 94.7 0.8087 0.8406 2010 Michigan 105.5 107.6 97.1 91.4 0.7006 0.8422 2011 Michigan 105.2 115.2 90.0 94.6 0.8315 0.8837 2012 Michigan 112.1 113.1 96.8 93.4 0.8187 0.8762 2013 Michigan 119.4 124.1 89.7 92.9 0.9496 0.9509
Michigan has been extremely underwhelming in its marquee games this year. But in the past John Beilein has been able to solve his team's weaknesses, and based on his track record, it is fair to expect significant improvement.
This was written last December after Michigan lost to No. 178 Charlotte and before Michigan fell to Arizona late and Mitch McGary was sidelined for the season. How did Beilein and Michigan respond? Only by winning the nation's best conference by the largest margin this decade and reaching the Elite Eight for the second straight year.
This is still a very young team that's learning its new roles after Michigan had three players drafted in the NBA Draft last summer and two other experienced big men leave for other reasons. It's going to take a little time for Beilein and his staff to work out all the kinks and turn Michigan into a well-oiled machine. Obviously, this doesn't excuse what is a terrible loss to NJIT, but this is still the same team that beat Syracuse and should have walked away from the Barclays Center with a win over Villanova two weeks ago.
So don't panic just yet. Michigan will be fine and in the upper echelon in the Big Ten.
And don't forget: the 1989 national championship team lost to D-II Alaska-Anchorage.