Kansas State held off another feisty performance from No. 16 seed UMBC as the No. 9 seed Wildcats won an ugly 50-43 game on Sunday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
America was rooting for the Retrievers, the first No. 16 seed to ever beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA tournament, after UMBC shocked America with a blowout win over Virginia on Friday night. Kansas State also gave UMBC ample opportunities to secure another upset — turning the ball over 18 times and shooting 1-for-12 from three-point range.
But after putting up 74 points against the nation’s best defense two nights ago, the Retrievers couldn’t get a shot to go in the second round. Defense is ultimately what is taking Bruce Weber’s team to the second weekend. UMBC shot 28 percent (14-for-47) from the field and 27 percent (6-for-22) from three-point range as they struggled to generate offense against a strong Kansas State defense.
The Wildcats (24-11) were also ugly on offense as they only shot 40 percent (18-for-44) from the field and had only two double-figure scorers — led by Barry Brown’s 18 points. Kansas State couldn’t buy a bucket from the perimeter. They had a ton of unforced errors.
It wasn’t pretty, but the only thing that matters is that Kansas State advanced to the Sweet 16 in the South Regional despite not playing particularly well. Leading by only three points with under two minutes left, the Wildcats are lucky that the Retrievers didn’t get hot from the perimeter to steal another win.
Kansas State moves on to play No. 5 seed Kentucky in Atlanta in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. The matchup of Wildcats will almost assuredly have a heavy Kentucky lean in the crowd, with many in Big Blue Nation already referring to the host city as Catlanta.
But the South Regional is wide open since all four top seeds have already been eliminated. A young Kentucky team has also been inconsistent at times during the season. It would be silly to count out Kansas State since this team has defended at a pretty high level during this tournament.
Kansas State might have earned the victory and advanced, but America fell in love with UMBC over the last few days. The magical run of the Retrievers was the reason everybody tuned in to see this game.
The program became a national story after the team’s shocking blowout win on Friday night. The Retrievers won over America with a fun underdog team and an aggressive social media presence. It might not sink in how monumental UMBC’s win over Virginia was until we look back at it many years later.
Since taking the nation by storm as a No. 15 seed advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2013, Florida Gulf Coast has become a respected mid-major program that regularly competes for conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances. The program’s recruiting reach has also increased as the Eagles are bringing in better talent.
The school’s surprise run also had huge financial implications for the school and athletics department. According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, annual donations at FGCU went from an average of $15 million per year to $27 million per year after the Sweet 16 run. Applications for out-of-state students increased by 80 percent. The school was also able to sell gear while making a push for more season ticket holders and consistent revenue.
Regardless of Sunday’s outcome, UMBC is now a nationally-known program thanks to one special win. UMBC’s weekend perfectly encapsulates why the NCAA tournament is such a big deal for the one-bid leagues who usually get slaughtered by the bluebloods in the opening round.
The Retrievers might not have picked up a catchy original nickname like “Dunk City.” But the letters “U-M-B-C” will likely forever be synonymous with massive upsets and unlikely underdog stories. We could very well see books and documentaries get produced off of this run.
It’ll be fascinating to track the school, and the men’s basketball program, over the next several seasons to see how all of this will benefit the school. Capitalizing on this hot stretch is going to be a key for UMBC’s sustained growth.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County could see an uptick in enrollment applications and donations to its school. All because of an orange bouncing ball.