Underdogs In More Ways Than One
March 17, 2018 7:13 AM   Subscribe

Since the NCAA men's basketball tournament adopted its current format of four 16-team brackets in 1985, a 16th seed had never, in 135 tries, won its opening-round game against a 1st-seeded team. Until last night, when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers blew out the University of Virginia Cavaliers, 74-54.

UMBC is the champion of the America East conference, and needed a dramatic win over the University of Vermont just to reach the tournament for only the second time in the school's history. They went 24-10 in the regular season, including a 40-point loss to the SUNY Albany Great Danes, and only faced a single nationally ranked team -- the #3 Arizona Wildcats, who demolished them.

UVA, meanwhile, entered the game ranked #1 not just in its bracket but in the country, after demolishing the ACC en route to a 31-2 record that included wins over UNC (twice), Clemson (twice) and Duke. In short, they really were that good -- or at least they seemed to be.

But on the court on March 16, the Retrievers were a match for the Cavaliers from the start -- the teams were tied at 21 at halftime -- and in the second half they were much more than that. Led by head coach Ryan Odom and 28 points from guard Jairus Lyles, they made mincemeat out of UVA's world-beating defense -- becoming the only team to hit more than half their shots against the Cavaliers this season. UVA gave up an average of 53 points and change in a game, which was the best in the NCAA this year. UMBC scored 53 on them in the second half alone.

By the end, the biggest upset in March Madness history* was an anticlimax, as the Retrievers' lead had become insurmountable well before the last buzzer.

After the game, both sides were gracious and not a little stunned, with UMBC's players and coach all refusing to take credit for the win, while UVA head coach Tony Bennett (no relation) had no trouble admitting that "we got our butts whipped."

UMBC now goes on to face Kansas State in the Round of 32 on Sunday.

UMBC's house coverage of the tournament

FiveThirtyEight: How UMBC Did The Unthinkable — And The Inevitable

ESPN: The Night The Impossible Happened

The Baltimore Sun's archive of UMBC tournament coverage

The Ringer: UMBC's Historic Win Over Virginia Didn't Look Lucky

*While this is the first victory for a 16 seed in the men's tournament, the Harvard women's team pulled off the feat in 1998, when they defeated Stanford, 71-67. However, that Crimson team was considered under-ranked even before the game since they had the country's leading scorer, Allison Feaster, while Stanford had lost two of their starters to injury after being named a 1-seed and were seen as ripe for an upset.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish (44 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I couldn't name one single player on any college basketball team and this still makes me happy. Underdogs forever.
posted by AFABulous at 7:21 AM on March 17 [13 favorites]


plus you gotta admit, that is one handsome dog
posted by AFABulous at 7:22 AM on March 17 [12 favorites]


And everyones brackets collapse into dust.

Except for that one person who wanted to build a bracket but didn't know much about basketball...and picked UMBC because they had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a child and dammit, it was a good dog.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:26 AM on March 17 [41 favorites]


You made a bad choice
You made brackets crumble
posted by Toubab at 7:52 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


"Because 'CRAZY HAPPENED' with a #16 beating a #1" - free pizza from Little Caesar's on April 2nd.

(Tweet announcing the offer Friday afternoon, hours before the UMBC upset happened)
posted by needled at 7:53 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


Up here in Burlington we were really disappointed that UMBC barely edged UVM for the slot. I hope they keep playing like this! The hurt isn't bad now and maybe a bit more respect for America East? Nah.
posted by meinvt at 7:57 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


No – what happened inside Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Friday night, a 74-54 Retrievers victory, will live forever.
We like to exchange the intensity of a moment for the duration of a moment - "will live forever." I wonder why.
posted by clawsoon at 8:02 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


I think it’s amazing that a single team is now the answer to the questions “who was the victim of the greatest upset in NCAA history (vs Chaminade)?” and “who was the victim of the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history?”
posted by MoonOrb at 8:25 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Damn, I shoulda filled out a bracket this year. I've always done them based on relative mascot cuteness, and that pupper would have come out ahead of that creeper cavalier hands down.
posted by phunniemee at 8:25 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]


I was ordered out of bed and to the TV room to watch the last five minutes of the game.

I'm glad to have been able to watch a slice of history in the making but as a basketball non-fan it just looked like a typical early-round unbalanced game, lacking the drama of buzzer-beating shots or even a neck-and-neck scoring race. It was a very different game to ACC fans than it was to basketball non-fans.

Though with that said, it was inhuman how consistently UMBC was placing their threes and free-throws. If it wasn't for their size disadvantages they could have beaten anybody in the world last night.
posted by ardgedee at 8:31 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Except for that one person who wanted to build a bracket but didn't know much about basketball...and picked UMBC because they had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a child and dammit, it was a good dog.

My selection was not mascot-based, but yes, I don't know basketball, and I did pick UMBC in my bracket...
posted by jcreigh at 8:45 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


The reaction we all wanted to see happened immediately:

@Dog_Rates: THEY'RE GOOD RETRIEVERS, BRENT
posted by scaryblackdeath at 8:47 AM on March 17 [23 favorites]


that pupper would have come out ahead of that creeper cavalier hands down

So I graduated from Virginia and one time in musta been 88 or 89 I was at a football game vs Maryland and the guy in the cavalier suit was rasslin' with the guy in the terrapin suit and something happened and the cavalier guy broke or otherwise hurt the leg of the terrapin guy and he was rolling around having an owwy until the medics came over and looked at him and put him on a stretcher and took him away and guys they took his turtle helmet off but he was still wearing the rest of his turtle suit so there were these medics carrying away an anthropomorphic turtle creature on a stretcher and it was funny because I had trouble empathizing with him because as mentioned anthropomorphic turtle creature
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:48 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


2006. Michigan State loses to George Mason in the first round. I was sitting there, a hour from East Lansing, saying "Who the hell is George Mason University?" Well, they went on to beat North Carolina and Connecticut and made it to the Final Four. This is why I can't gamble on sports.

George Mason was an 11 seed, so UMBC's run could be a much bigger deal. In which case, Virginia fans have no reason to be upset. You can get free pizza!
posted by riruro at 8:49 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Not so much a sports fan. Love these underdog stories though. Literally, I guess, in this case.
posted by evilDoug at 8:56 AM on March 17


There goes always winning trivia battles with "What is Maryland's state dog?"
posted by escabeche at 9:05 AM on March 17 [8 favorites]


Congrats to UMBC. The NCAA has been stacking this tourney for years in such a way to minimize such upsets to the big schools and yet, it still happens. #1 seeds have been safe from the insane upsets but now half the brackets in the country are in a dumpster fire. I love it.

About twenty years ago a coworker's wife reported that the law firm she worked at had a spendy NCAA pool. Participants spent hours studying up and making their picks. That year someone made an entry of nothing but Diane Chambers picks. That person ended up getting three out of the Final Four. Needless to say there was plenty gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.
posted by Ber at 9:05 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


As a longtime follower of UVa basketball, this is exactly the sort of choking when it counts that I have come to expect. My bracket is fine.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 9:08 AM on March 17 [8 favorites]


Now they must keep winning so that everyone else's brackets join mine in hell.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:09 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]






they had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a child and dammit, it was a good dog

@Dog_Rates: THEY'RE GOOD RETRIEVERS, BRENT

they actually have notoriously difficult temperaments, because they're stubborn as all hell, and also very large and strong, and also bossier / more socially dominant than most other retrievers, and also way less outgoing than most retrievers, and so if you are not able to devote time to their training and then subsequently keep them occupied doing the things that they like -- jumping into water and retrieving stuff -- pretty much all day every day, they will get frustrated and bored and destroy your sectional couch and also all your other furniture ask me how i know

i love them, they're great fun, but they are hilariously the opposite of what most people mean when they describe a dog as 'good'
posted by halation at 9:22 AM on March 17 [12 favorites]


It's a good thing I wasn't actually able to watch the game last night. I still have a very visceral memory of the Chaminade game. A couple of days ago I was rashly telling a Duke fan that this was the year for UVA basketball; I was wrong and should have known better.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:49 AM on March 17


@ESPN Stats & Info:

"Following UMBC's historic win, there are zero perfect brackets remaining in ESPN's Tournament Challenge.

That's out of 17.3 million entries."
posted by lalex at 9:50 AM on March 17 [26 favorites]


This Chesapeake Bay Retriever puppy is very sleepy, but still manages to be very puppy in short bursts. Perhaps this could be read as a metaphor for UBC's basketball team or perhaps I've just been sitting on this delightful puppy video and am desperate to shoehorn it in somehow.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:07 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


The NCAA has been stacking this tourney for years in such a way to minimize such upsets to the big schools and yet, it still happens.


How so? I know nothing about basketball, but I love hearing about completely biased setups.
posted by jeather at 10:16 AM on March 17


lol it isn't. Everyone thinks the tournament is seeded especially to screw them.
posted by fleacircus at 10:36 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Wait. What?!?!

Not a sports fan AT ALL but my cousin is the athletic director there. I figured I ought to call for even making the tournament but I guess I REALLY owe him a call now.
posted by Defective_Monk at 10:46 AM on March 17 [10 favorites]


...UVA head coach Tony Bennett (no relation)...

Could you imagine Tony Bennett as a basketball coach? That would be awesome.

(sing national anthem)
(coach 1st half)
(halftime performance)
(coach 2nd half)
(encore) Rags to Riches, I Left My Heart, etc.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 10:52 AM on March 17 [12 favorites]


My one experience with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever was in the actual Chesapeake Bay. There's a wonderful dog beach on Kent Island, just over the bridge from Annapolis. There are really very few other places for dogs to swim between DC and the bay, because Maryland is a state without lakes or ponds! And I lived in DC for the two most active years of my dog's life. So in the summer, when it was just too damned hot for really long walks or even standing around in a shade-free city dog park, I would often cajole a friend into taking a daytrip there (I also did it myself a few times in a car2go, which I can't recommend).

It's a really lovely dog beach, and one day I was there when it was sunny and in the 80s, with a lovely breeze off the bay, and this very WASP-y/preppy lady in her 50s was there with her gorgeous, perfectly groomed Chesapeake Bay Retriever who just kept going into the water after his ball, for about an hour. Which just seemed about perfect. It truly was a very good dog. That's my Chesapeake Bay Retriever story!

If you do ever go to this dog beach, you gotta also go to the crab shack right before the highway (after the airfield). Best crabcake sandwich ever, picnic tables outside. It will be full of people and happy doggos post-beach. And if you use the bathroom, you will walk through the kitchen and see buckets and boxes of fresh crabs that have just been brought in. As good as it gets.
posted by lunasol at 10:57 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


A friend’s family had a sheep farm in Wisconsin, and their Chesepeake was pretty content — because she spent all day chasing sheep and flopping into ponds and running alongside the old Pontiac that they used to motor around the fields in.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:43 AM on March 17


My six-year-old had picked UMBC for my bracket because of the adorable dog mascot, until my father talked him out of it.
posted by daisystomper at 11:59 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


I just came in here to say that my daughter transferred to UMBC this semester, and I'm pretty sure that played some role in tipping the scales in their favor. Even though she doesn't know from sportsball and is home on spring break playing Overwatch 22 hours a day just like the rest of her fellow #retrievers.
posted by drlith at 12:08 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


they had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a child and dammit, it was a good dog

The funny part of having a Chesie as a mascot is the school is best known for its chess program, they have qualified every year but three in the final four of collegiate chess.
posted by peeedro at 12:30 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


This discussion appears to get to the heart of what happened:
Titus: [To] Virginia’s packline defense, 3-pointers are always the kryptonite. For those who don’t know, they put the guy guarding the ball—they have him guard the ball wherever it is pretty much. The other four defenders pack in tight into the paint to prevent driving lanes. That’s their style of defense. Now, in packing in and preventing the driving lanes, you’ve collapsed. You’re susceptible to long closeouts.

Frazier: And you play the percentages.

Titus: You play the percentages. You’re like, there’s no way [the other team] is gonna keep hitting 3s on us. UMBC was hitting 3s. Virginia starts to freak out. They start closing out longer. UMBC starts dicing up their defense. And then Virginia panics. Everything just snowballs on top of itself. And that’s how we ended up where we were.
posted by clawsoon at 2:57 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


> lol it isn't. Everyone thinks the tournament is seeded especially to screw them.

The Loser Machine video linked above is a good argument to the contrary, and offers a reasonable, low-friction approach to resolving it. I hate conducting debates through video posts, but this one goes straight to the data analysis, using graphs constructively, and is over with quickly.
posted by ardgedee at 4:25 PM on March 17


This is so, so, so, so, so cool. It's is one of the reasons why I love March Madness. Just to see the low seed begin their climb. And the expectation that someday a #16 beating a #1 would happen. I remember how big it was in the sports world when Chaminade won against Sampson. I am hoping this is packing the same punch.

Anyway I can see this game in its entirety???
posted by goalyeehah at 4:50 PM on March 17


As someone who always roots for Maryland teams, I was delighted by this upset. As always, I especially revel in the random "crying women in the stands" shots the camera crew kept panning to in the last 10 minutes as the disbelief and despair really sank in.
posted by TwoStride at 7:10 PM on March 17


The Loser Machine video linked above is a good argument to the contrary, and offers a reasonable, low-friction approach to resolving it.

The solution proposed in that video, re-seeding, would do even more to stack the deck in favor of the better teams. The video is actually arguing against its own points a lot: bad points, with bad arguments. It's kind of a trainwreck of a video tbh, even though I also enjoy to see charts whizzing around.

I'd like to see his video where he tackles the mystery of the 10-12 seeds. I think to do that he'd probably have to display any knowledge at all of how the tournament is actually seeded, at larges and autobids and whatnot, and he'd run into this problem of "best record" vs. "best team", an unresolvable tension. (Like for example, I don't fully agree with John Gasaway but at worst he's high-quality wrong.) I'd like to see where that video goes.
posted by fleacircus at 8:23 PM on March 17


I'm glad to have been able to watch a slice of history in the making but as a basketball non-fan it just looked like a typical early-round unbalanced game, lacking the drama of buzzer-beating shots or even a neck-and-neck scoring race.

But that's the weird thing -- it wasn't just that a 16 seed beat a 1 seed, it was that the 16 seed kind of stomped them.
posted by tavella at 9:12 PM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Here in Baltimore County, the local reaction is basically complete amazement. Freeman Hrabowski, UMBC's president, is a remarkable man, and the school is a real jewel in our state educational system. That said, it's certainly no athetic powerhouse. To the extent it's known at all, UMBC is known more for chess than for any other sport.

I've noticed a lot of UMBC/Dr. Hrabowski articles of late in the Baltimore Sun. Here are three of the more interesting ones:

The school recently opened a new arena. Timely!

Dr. Hrabowski has become "BFFs" with the men's basketball team's star player.

In non-sports news, I was very impressed to read this harrowing story of Dr. Hrabowski's taking part in the Children's Crusade in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963.
posted by cheapskatebay at 4:18 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


I'm glad to have been able to watch a slice of history in the making but as a basketball non-fan it just looked like a typical early-round unbalanced game, lacking the drama of buzzer-beating shots or even a neck-and-neck scoring race.

But that's the weird thing -- it wasn't just that a 16 seed beat a 1 seed, it was that the 16 seed kind of stomped them.


Exactly. It WAS an early round unbalanced game... in the totally "wrong" direction.

(All my teams are out, so... GO UMBC. :))
posted by joycehealy at 6:33 AM on March 18


Thank you for these links and this great roundup! This is my alma mater and I knew I should be proud, but not being a sportsball fan, I didn't know exactly why. Just checked, I still remember my school song. Perfect for early morning shower-singing.
posted by missmobtown at 7:46 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


If anything, the tournament seems designed to ensure the largest possible audiences at each level.
posted by ZeusHumms at 1:53 PM on March 19


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