UMBC made sports history on Friday night by becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The America East champions pulled off a shocking, 74-54 upset over No. 1 seed Virginia in South Region play.
The Retrievers (25-10) not only made history by beating a No. 1 seed — they also knocked off the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament in dominating fashion. Tied at the half, UMBC jumped out to a double-digit lead and maintained a comfortable cushion throughout the half by consistently knocking down three-pointers and keeping the pressure on.
Senior guard Jairus Lyle, the team’s hero with a buzzer-beater in the America East title game, finished with 28 points to pace the Retrievers. He went 9-for-11 from the field and 3-for-4 from three-point range. Joe Shurburne (14 points), Arkel Lamar (12 points) and K.J. Maura (10 points) also finished in double-figures for UMBC, as they extended its winning streak to six games.
Friday’s upset win for UMBC over Virginia is the most monumental upset ever in the NCAA tournament. It was the perfect storm of random events that also doubled as one of the most memorable losses in the history of sports.
No. 1 seeds aren’t supposed to lose. The deck of the NCAA tournament is completely stacked to all but ensure that No. 1 seeds advance to the Round of 32. In tournament history, only eight No. 2 seeds have ever lost to No. 15 seeds. After No. 2 seed Michigan State lost to No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee two years ago, the Spartans were thought of as the first national title favorite to lose in the first round to a No. 15 seed.
So for the top overall seed, a national title favorite, to lose by 20 to a No. 16 seed? It seems utterly incomprehensible. UMBC just pulled off the most lopsided victory ever by a No. 14, 15 or 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. They made this win look entirely too easy.
Before the NCAA tournament, Penn beating Kansas became a strange subplot. Some analysts used metrics to declare the Quakers as the best No. 16 seed in the field during the last few years.
Penn wasn’t even the best No. 16 seed in its own NCAA tournament. UMBC completely blindsided us.
The Retrievers came out of nowhere to put on a stunning clinic against a team that decimated the ACC. Hall of Fame coaches like Coach K, Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim couldn’t figure out Virginia in five tries this season. Virginia won the ACC regular season by four games — setting a record for most conference victories in a single season in the process. The Cavaliers also took home the league’s conference tournament crown.
In a tumultuous college hoops season that consistently saw top-10 teams losing to unranked teams, Virginia was the clear No. 1 overall seed entering the 2018 NCAA tournament. They only lost to West Virginia and Virginia Tech during the regular season in close games.
Things took a turn for Virginia earlier this week when the team lost sixth man DeAndre Hunter for the season with an injury. But, even with Hunter’s injury, Virginia was still a heavy favorite to win the national title. And nobody even considered this team losing in the first round to UMBC.
Head coach Ryan Odom and his team had other ideas. The Retrievers picked apart the Cavaliers like it was a preseason exhibition game against a local NAIA team. Two years ago, the Retrievers finished 7-25 to make it seven consecutive seasons of at least 20 losses. Now, they’re on top of the world after beating the best team in college basketball.
You couldn’t properly engineer this kind of two-year turnaround playing College Hoops 2K8 and cheating your way through a video game rebuild. It’s just mind-blowing how quickly UMBC was able to play this well against a team that was as dominant as Virginia was this season. KenPom has the Retrievers listed as the No. 1 team in luck in the country — seriously, they do. Luck isn’t even the reason UMBC is in the record books after this historic win. But it is a factor in the perfect storm of events to make this happen.
Lyles put up another memorable postseason performance. He also had plenty of help from multiple double-figure scorers around him knocking down timely shots. The Retrievers knocked down 12 three-pointers. Odom and his staff had a proper game plan in place to face aggressively attack Virginia’s defense.
And when the stakes grew real for a Virginia team on the brink of elimination against a No. 16 seed, they panicked and didn’t have a go-to player to bail them out with easy buckets. The Cavaliers forced numerous perimeter looks out of the rhythm of the offense that led to a 19 percent (4-for-22) finish from three-point range. Only sophomore guards Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome finished in double-figures for Virginia as they had 15 points each.
All of those random factors combined to form a 20-point blowout and one of the most memorable, unfathomable upsets in sports history. People will likely remember this more for the angle of Virginia losing than UMBC winning, but that would be a mistake. Because the Retrievers did just as much to win this game as the Cavaliers could have possibly done to lose this game. They completely beat down a team that won 31 games this season.
It’s hard to say if and when we’ll see another No. 16 seed beat another No. 1 seed. But we almost assuredly won’t see one happen quite like this again soon.