Bracketologists, take notice of season’s early surprises

Incarnate Word? Yes, it is a question, and one that Nebraska could not answer.

The Cardinals beat the host Cornhuskers 74-73 in a game

that shocked the college basketball world.

In a move that will have Indiana fans recalling Keith Smart, Cardinals junior guard Kyle Hittle hit a baseline jumper from the left side with four seconds left for the win.

For all you early bracketologists, no need to revise your projected NCAA field.

Incarnate Word (7-1) is a

first-year Division I school in San Antonio. As such, the Cardinals are ineligible for postseason events, including the Southland Tournament, until 2017-18.

Indeed, Nebraska (5-3) is

the only major conference

school on a schedule filled with Division II opponents.

No problem. The win at Lincoln provided 40 minutes for the Cardinals’ highlight reel.

It marked the first time since 2010-11 that a transitioning Division I team beat an opponent from one of the five most powerful conferences, according to Stats.

It was just the latest bump for a Big Ten Conference that is looking less like a powerhouse this winter.

After all, Incarnate Word’s win bumped New Jersey Institute of Technology out of Cinderella’s carriage. NJIT (2-4 at the time and losers of 51 straight from 2007-09) went into Ann Arbor last Saturday and beat Michigan. The Wolverines, who made it to the Elite Eight last postseason, followed that with a 45-42 loss to Eastern Michigan.

“We didn’t have a lot of answers today,” Michigan coach John Beilein said after the Eastern Michigan game, something that certainly left Wolverines fans wondering why. “Their quickness was overwhelming.”

The stumbles of the Huskers and Wolverines may steal today’s headlines, but they are not alone.

North Florida took out Purdue, Indiana fell to Eastern Washington, Northwestern lost to Northern Iowa, and Rutgers bowed to St. Peter’s.

That is not necessarily a sign of weakness in the Big Ten, which is

99-30 in nonconference play as of Thursday. Rather, it is an affirmation of the quality of basketball from top to bottom.

On the same night that Nebraska fell, No. 1 Kentucky stumbled to a first-half deficit against Columbia. The Lions lost by 10 but wrote a textbook for other teams about how to attack a team that many think invincible.

Let’s not forget that UMKC opened the season with a win at Missouri (and then lost seven of its next nine).

Division II Christian Brothers defeated Memphis in a preseason contest. College basketball is alive and well, at least in December.

And it brings us wonderful stories of unthinkable triumph. (The Cardinals reportedly flew to Lincoln on Southwest, so the athletics department could take

advantage of the airline’s “bags fly free” promotion.)

These upsets are the exception.

On the same night that Incarnate Word stole the headlines and Columbia took a halftime lead at Kentucky, blue bloods Ohio State and Wisconsin beat High Point and Milwaukee, respectively, by a combined 93 points.

As the calendar turns to 2015, order will be restored in the college basketball world, if for no other reason because of conference scheduling. Until then, the NJITs of the hoops world will remind us that it is never a game of absolutes. When the gameplan clicks and the shots fall, the unthinkable becomes reality.

That is why we watch in December, and that is especially why we watch again in March, as NCAA Tournament upsets highlight the early rounds of play.

Incarnate Word next plays at Grand Canyon on Wednesday. Yes, that is the same Antelope team that visits IU on Saturday.

Any chance the Grand Canyon coach reminds his players not to look past the Hoosiers?

Author photo
Bob Johnson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.