It’s the most hyped up, exciting time of the year for sports fans. That’s right, it’s the 2018 NCAA Tournament. This weekend, a handful of power conference and smaller conference college basketball teams took the basketball courts in eager anticipation for a chance to survive and advance toward winning a national championship. However, for top seeded teams, it is also the one opportunity for small, mid-major conference teams to make a name for themselves on national television and become villains to those filling out their brackets.
This has been the case so far. Already, two 13 seeded NCAA men’s basketball teams, the University of Buffalo Bulls and the Marshall Thundering Herd, did damage to every college basketball/sports fans’ brackets, respectively pulling off wins over Arizona and Wichita State, respectively. March madness is alive and well.
But just when the tournament couldn’t get any more wild and crazy, it did last night. The top seeded Virginia Cavaliers, coached by Tony Bennett (not to be confused with the legendary singer), traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina to take on the America East conference tournament champions the University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. A lot of people counted on Virginia to not only win that game, but to advance to the National Championship and ultimately win it. UMBC punched their ticket to the Big Dance by hitting a game-winning jump shot in the America East tournament final against Vermont. Nobody thought they had a chance.
But the players on UMBC truly believed in themselves and their coach, Ryan Odom. The Cavaliers, best known for their excellent play on defense, found themselves surprisingly tied at 21 at the half. Once the second half began, the game got out of reach. The Retrievers played at a faster pace, with more energy, and kept knocking down two-point and three-point jump shots, while giving the Cavaliers a taste of their own medicine: Virginia was held to 54 points the ENTIRE game! In blowing out Virginia 74-54, UMBC became the first ever 16 seed in the tournament to win against a number one seed. Brackets now are totally busted.
UMBC’s road to the tournament was a strange one. They lost to UAlbany by 44 points earlier in the season, and they clinched a spot in the tournament thanks to a game-winning three point shot over the heavily favored top seed, the Vermont Catamounts. And yet, the team had very high levels of confidence, and didn’t feel phased by the underdog label placed on them. The Retrievers did end up losing to Kansas State in the next round, but their performance against Virginia will be remembered as one of the greatest upsets in college basketball and sports history. Once again, the Retrievers, like the other underdog teams who won, proved that the NCAA tournament is the wildest, craziest, up in the air nationally televised sports event ever. Look for them again next season.