It's finally going to happen... Jim Engles NJIT Highlanders are going to play in a real conference this season but yet an unexpected landing spot for NJIT, the Atlantic Sun.
Last year was NJIT's best since beginning a Division I schedule about 10 years ago. The Highlanders had that signature win early on against Michigan and then continued on their way to a 21-12 mark in an appearance in the CIT semifinals. The deep CIT run could prove valuable for a team that is likely ready for a NCAA Tournament appearance with basically everyone back from last year's squad.
NJIT is ready to instantly compete with North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast in the ASun this season and has a legitimate Player of the Year candidate in Damon Lynn. Lynn averaged 17.5 points and 3.7 assists per game last year as a sophomore. He was even better in the CIT averaging nearly 20 points per game against New Hampshire, Cleveland State, Canisius, and Northern Arizona. The interesting thing to watch with Lynn this year is whether or not his stamina can hold up. Lynn played over 36 minutes per game as a sophomore which is a luxury Engles may not have when the Highlanders play two games in three days over ten times this season.
The good news for Engles is that Lynn isn't the Highlanders only option in the backcourt. Willis Winfield is back for his senior year after posting 12.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game last season. Fellow senior Ky Howard was also a double-digit scorer at 10.9 points per outing and lead the team in assists with 3.9 a night. Howard did miss a good portion of the season last year due to injury though.
The frontcourt won't be as much of a focal point for opposing teams this year but it's still suitable enough to make an ASun run. NJIT was below the national average for rebounding last year and doesn't really have a presence in the paint as Howard actually lead the team in rebounding last year. Tim Coleman is about as close as you get to a frontcourt threat. The 6'5 junior averaged 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds last season. Daquan Holiday is gone which means it may be time for 6'10 Vlad Shustov to step up.
In short expect plenty of three guard sets in Newark this year. That type of formation shouldn't be much of a problem in the ASun, a conference basically absent of quality big men.
Before the Highlanders head into their first year of ASun play they'll get tested right away as they open the year at Kentucky on November 14. NJIT will also travel to USF, Providence, Yale, St. John's, Columbia, Albany, and both St. Francis programs during non-conference play. Boston University, Lafayette, UMass Lowell, Kent State, Stony Brook, and a non-Division I opponent will visit Newark.
Don't be surprised if the first year in the Atlantic Sun is a historic one for the Highlanders.