Every season there's always going to be a number of embarrassing upsets to kick off the season. For today's countdown piece we'll take a look at five of the worst non-conference losses the Big Ten saw last year. While a few of these teams would go on to recover and have successful seasons, a pair of the teams featured here would end up having relatively disappointing seasons, while the team on top of the list finished exactly where everyone expected they would. Anyways, let's start the countdown.
5. Purdue 84 Gardner-Webb 89
One of Purdue's two most problematic defeats (the other being North Florida), those two games became a recurring talking point for the Boilers as two of the biggest reasons why some people didn't know if Purdue could land an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. When everything was said and done, though, Purdue's strong play in conference was enough to recover from a pair of disappointing losses early in the season.
The Gardner-Webb game definitely came at a problematic time for the Boilers. While Painter had gotten his team off to an impressive 8-2 start, with several quality wins mixed in, the team had just struggled with Vanderbilt and gotten blown out against Notre Dame after a disastrous second half. Now they had to face a Gardner-Webb team just three days before Christmas in a tepid arena with little urgency or care by pretty much everyone involved. Letting their guard down, Purdue couldn't find a way to slow down a Gardner-Webb team that hit 14 of their 25 three pointers (shooting 56% from three, compared to 54.8% from two and 56.5% from the free throw line). While Purdue did manage to score 84 points, they had no answer for Jerome Hill and Tyler Strange and fell to 8-5. The loss ended up adding fuel to the flame for the "fire Matt Painter" camp that could have proved insurmountable if Painter hadn't turned things immediately afterwards thanks to a 11-4 Big Ten start.
4. Michigan State 64 Texas Southern 71
The saving grace for this loss was that Michigan State would ultimately recover and end up in another Final Four under Tom Izzo. That being said, losing to a SWAC opponent after a considerably hit-or-miss non-conference start didn't lead many people to believe that the Spartans were going to end back in the Final Four. While Texas Southern has been moderately successful in the SWAC under former Indiana coach Mike Davis, the team entered East Lansing with a lowly 1-8 record, coming off of road losses to Baylor, Florida and Gonzaga by a combined 91 points. It didn't stop Davis from coaching his team to an improbable upset of a ranked Michigan State team, though.
Everything that Michigan State had issues with seemingly appeared on that night en route to a rough overtime defeat. The Spartans, who had significant issues from the charity stripe, only hit 57.1% of their free throws, including splitting a pair of free throws in the closing seconds of regulation. To make things worse the team shot 19% from three, 39% from the field and star Denzel Valentine fouled out. The loss didn't define State's season, though, as Izzo was able to get his team to bounce back on their their way to tying for third place in the Big Ten before another lengthy postseason run.
3. Nebraska 73 Incarnate Word 74
The Cornhuskers were supposed to build off of a surprising NCAA Tournament appearance the year before and some people thought Tim Miles was going to have Nebraska contend with the upper echelon of the Big Ten. Things didn't start off completely as expected, with two early losses to Rhode Island and Creighton, but most people expected Nebraska to get things going eventually (they also had a slow start in 2013-14). That being said, the loss to Incarnate Word was definitely unexpected and only looked a tad less embarrassing thanks to Michigan's woeful week (detailed below) that had just occurred.
The Cornhuskers weren't starved for offense, scoring 73 points on their home court, but somehow Incarnate Word found a way to keep pace, with a late jumper following a Terran Petteway turnover sealing the deal. The win was the first win by a transitioning Division I team against an opponent from a power conference since the 2010-11 season and jump started a fall from grace for the Cornhuskers. While Nebraska was able to edge Cincinnati in double overtime (scoring a whopping 56 points over 50 minutes), a loss to Hawaii and an equally dreadful win over Loyola Marymount (that entered overtime at 35 points) indicated Nebraska was a flawed team. Miles was never able to get them up and running like he had the previous season and the Cornhuskers finished the year on a lengthy losing streak.
2. (tie) Michigan 70 N.J.I.T 72, Michigan 42 Eastern Michigan 45
While Nebraska had a dreadful mid-December, the Wolverines had an even worse month. While Michigan's season was a disappointing (and injury riddled) affair, at the time of their game against the New Jersey Institute of Technology few people expected the team would drop off and finish the season 16-16. Hosting NJIT after an impressive win over Syracuse, Michigan had no expectations of losing to the conference-less Highlanders. They probably didn't anticipate a 11 for 17 shooting day from deep for the Highlanders, either, scoring 45 of their 72 points in the second half and answering everything Michigan threw at them on their way to the improbable upset. Caris LeVert did his best to keep Michigan afloat, scoring 32 of his teams 70 points, but the rest of the team could only hit on 12 of their 36 shots (and that's with Derrick Walton going 5 of 9) and the Wolverines became a punchline for college basketball fans nationwide.
To make matters worse, the hangover carried over to their next game when Michigan shot a dreadful 32.6% from the field (4 of 21 from three) and were upset by nearby Eastern Michigan on their home court. The win by Eastern Michigan was just their third win in the series, previously losing 27 of their first 29 games against the Wolverines. Michigan would then go on to get walloped by Arizona and Southern Methodist, putting the team at a rough 6-5.
1. Rutgers 26 Virginia 45
Rutgers had plenty of bad losses in their inaugural season as a Big Ten member, but who honestly would want to read about their 18 point loss to Saint Peters or 27 point defeat against Seton Hall? When it comes to one loss that defined Rutgers season it was easily their late November showdown against Virginia at the Barclays Center. If I told you that Rutgers held a top ten Virginia team to 45 points on 32.7% shooting, you'd probably think they landed a colossal upset, wouldn't you? That, however, didn't happen. Not even close.
What ended up happening was Rutgers, who entered the half with a one point lead, would score eight points in the second half. Even more shocking was the fact that after a Kadeem Jack layup made it 24-26 with 15:45 remaining, Rutgers would only score two more points to close out the game. When everything was said and done the Scarlet Knights shot 25% from the field, missed all 13 three pointers, only attempted three free throws and had a total of four assists.
The loss ended up reminding some older Big Ten fans of Kevin O'Neill's dreadful 1999-00 Northwestern team that would average 51.5 points per game that season (in comparison, Rutgers had 59.3 points per game last season). That Wildcats team would also be held to a season low 26 points (against Evansville), though they managed to one up Rutgers as they would be held to under 50 points 14 times and were also held to a combined 59 points in losses against Michigan State and Illinois.