UMBC's victory over Virginia might be greatest upset in college basketball history

Whenever college basketball fans have talked about the biggest upset in modern history, it was usually little Chaminade’s win in 1982 over No. 1 Virginia and Ralph Sampson in Honolulu.

Whenever they spoke of the biggest upset in the NCAA tournament, it was usually No. 15 seed Richmond’s win over No. 2 seed Syracuse at Cole Field House in 1991.

Given Chaminade was an NAIA school at the time, it still might be part of the the conversation. But given the stage on which UMBC crushed the Cavaliers on Friday, it’s at best a close second.

As for the NCAA tournament, the only game with more historic significance than UMBC’s win — and a much different kind of history — was Texas Western’s win over Kentucky in the 1966 title game in College Park.

The 74-54 victory by the Retrievers in the NCAA Round of 64 on Friday in Charlotte, N.C., was the first by a No. 16 seed over a No. 1 seed since the tournament expanded in 1985.

The closest a bottom seed had come to beating a top seed came in 1989, when Princeton lost by one to Georgetown and East Tennessee State lost to Oklahoma by the same slim margin.

“I think we’re a billion to one to win the whole tournament, but I think we’re only 400 million to one to beat Georgetown,” Pete Carril, Princeton’s coach, said a few days before the game.

To think, UMBC was listed as only 5,000-to-1 in Las Vegas this week, along with Lipscomb, Radford, Texas Southern and Iona. The Retrievers were given the same odds to win the South Region.

Just to understand how huge an upset this was, the Cavaliers were the co-favorites (5-to-1) with Villanova to win the tournament and the clear favorites in the South at 6-to-5.

As long as the UMBC training staff can get enough fluids into Jairus Lyles so his legs don’t cramp up Sunday, the Retrievers should have a decent shot to beat No. 9 seed Kansas State.

If Friday’s shocking outcome in Charlotte put UMBC on the map — its biggest previous competitive achievement was reserved for its once-dominant chess team — it might have put Lyles into the NBA draft.

Lyles hit a 25-footer at the buzzer to beat heavy favorite Vermont on its home court in the America East title game, sending the Retrievers to their first NCAA tournament since 2008. He put on another dazzling display in destroying Virginia’s vaunted pack-line defense.

Lyles finished with 28 points on 9-for-11 shooting, and played much of the second half fighting cramps. While it didn’t quite match Houston’s Rob Gray in terms of points (39 against San Diego State) or last-second heroics (Gray hit the game-winning drive with 1.1 seconds left), it was more impressive given the competition.

UMBC’s first NCAA tournament victory also did something else: It either paved the way for Villanova to win its second national championship in three years, or it gave all the other remaining long shots hope that they could do what the Retrievers did Friday.

 

 

don.markus@baltsun.com

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