Putting UMBC’s Upset of Virginia in Context

What does it mean when upsets happen in the NCAA Tournament?

For neutral fans it means lots of cursing as they set their brackets on fire and reach for their wallets. It can also mean jubilant cheering when a rival falls flat on primetime television. Sometimes, it can even make folks root for schools they’ve never heard of.

We’ve seen it happen with George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast, VCU, Butler, and now the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The UMBC Retrievers shocked the world Friday night by demolishing 1-seed Virginia 74-54 in the opening round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers weren’t just a top seed, they were the top seed in the entire tournament. It marked the first time a 16-seed had defeated a 1-seed in 136 tries.

It’s incredible and unexpected, but once again, what does it all mean?

Tony Bennett and his club are smarting right now, but they still had a great season (Photo by Ivan Morozov).

That question and many others will naturally follow for Virginia.

They play a highly divisive and yet highly effective brand of basketball. Their defense-first mindset has taken the program to heights it hasn’t seen in more than a generation. Despite that, critics have argued time and time again that Tony Bennett’s style can’t win a national title and leaves them susceptible to losses in the NCAA Tournament.

Clearly, there’s some truth to that following an unprecedented loss. But don’t expect the Cavalier coaching staff to go changing things too much.

Virginia is still a great team that had a great season. They went 31-3 overall with all three losses coming to teams that qualified for the field of 64. They began the season unranked and ended up No. 1 for much of the year, eventually earning the top seed in the Big Dance. In the preseason poll the Wahoos were picked by the conference media to finish sixth in the ACC. They instead won both the regular season and ACC Tournament titles.

That kind of resume won’t be undone by one magical performance by UMBC.

College basketball has myriad problems, but parity isn’t one of them. In recent seasons, double-digit seeds have had increasing success.

Not only have many teams—including 13-seeds Buffalo and Marshall this season—pulled first round upsets, but we’ve seen mid-major schools make runs to the Sweet Sixteen and even the Final Four. Butler nearly beat Duke for the national championship.

It was only a matter of time before a 16-seed won and hats off to Ryan Odom’s club for being the first David to topple Goliath. This was the kind of upset people will be talking about for decades.

It doesn’t mean that Virginia was overrated. It’s just the magic of the tournament. It’s the magic of sports. It means everything and nothing. No matter where you come down, you can use it to prove your point in whatever barroom arguments you get into this weekend.

Just remember the Ides of March are upon us, and absolutely no one is safe.

Follow me on Twitter @BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.

Leave a Reply