By JUSTIN SOBELMAN
Well, it finally happened. For the first time since the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament moved to a 64-team format in 1985, a 16-seed toppled a 1-seed.
The UMBC Retrievers became an instant sensation as they pulled off what will go down as the biggest upset in NCAA basketball history, blowing top overall seed Virginia out of the gym in a 20-point thrashing.
It was shocking to watch, as a UMBC team that had lost to Albany 83-39 in January made UVA—a team that made mincemeat of its home Atlantic Coast Conference with just one loss, a team with one of the best defenses in college basketball history, a team that ground far better squad than UMBC into dust— look like it didn’t belong in the tournament.
Unsurprisingly, the Retrievers’ notoriety ballooned nearly as quickly as their second half lead did. The UMBC Athletics Twitter account became just as big a star as the team itself, as the account lobbed clever insults and pure bliss into the world. Any analyst who wrote off the Retrievers became a target, as CBS’s Seth Davis did before the game.
Hi everyone, in case you didn't see, Seth Davis tweeted this one minute into the game pic.twitter.com/vDlrcOtJOn
— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) March 17, 2018
Even the man behind the account had a swell in popularity.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) March 19, 2018
Everyone’s general reaction to the upset was disbelief and happiness. It was hard not to get behind UMBC, sports fans love an underdog, and you couldn’t pick a more unlikely David to topple the Virginia Goliath.
UMBC became everyone’s new favorite team for the weekend and UMBC went from “Who’s that team that’s going to get destroyed by Virginia?” to an acronym that sports fans will remember for decades, and whose highlights will pop up every time a 1-seed is on upset alert for years to come.
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 17, 2018
More than that, it was obvious that the stars of the team, like Jarrius Lyles and K.J. Maura, were playing their hearts out, even as the odds overwhelmed them.
This was especially evident in their second match-up, a loss Kansas State. The game itself was truly a slog to watch, and the Retrievers looked every part of the 16-seed they had earned. However, even as they struggled mightily to score, their effort and hustle never waned, particularly on a remarkable series of saves to retain possession in the contest’s closing minutes.
The scrappy underdog vibe was played up considerably by the game’s commentators, who acted like the UMBC players had dunked from the free throw line every time they dove for a loose ball, but they deserved it.
Like others have said, a champion is crowned every year, but nobody else can claim to have accomplish what the kids from UMBC have, and that’s something that deserves to be celebrated.