Retrievers set to pounce
No. 15 seed hopes to emulate past underdogs that knocked off big dogs
Members of the UMBC men's basketball team react to the news that they'll be facing Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (Sun photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor / March 16, 2008)
The Retrievers learned yesterday that they must contend with the Hoyas and Roy Hibbert, Georgetown's imposing 7-foot-2 center.
Hopeful UMBC coaches and players immediately recalled how another team from the America East Conference (Vermont) beat another team from the Big East (Syracuse) in the 2005 tournament. Vermont was a No. 13 seed, and UMBC is a No. 15.
"I look at Vermont playing Syracuse," fourth-year coach Randy Monroe told players and fans gathered at a campus grill. "That's why you play these things."
Added Monroe: "I guess you could say it'll be another dogfight. We're used to dogfights now."
Sophomore Matt Spadafora said the Retrievers possess the elements often seen in tournament upsets. "We're a guard-oriented team, and we've got shooters," he said.
No matter the opponent, Spadafora said, the key is not getting rattled. He said the Retrievers have faith in point guard Jay Greene, who rarely turns the ball over. He has been among the nation's leaders this season in assist-to-turnover ratio.
But first things first. Yesterday was a day for players to revel in hearing the school officially become part of the NCAA tournament field for the first time, and for celebrating the news that the Retrievers and their fans won't have far to travel -- only to Raleigh, N.C. -- for their first-round game.
"I think it'll be great for us," athletic director Charles Brown said. "Just family and friends and season-ticket holders is already a couple hundred people who can go."
Team members, wearing gray sweats and still passing around the shiny America East trophy they won Saturday, watched the pairings announcements on a large projection screen. Some fans hooted when a commentator said Georgetown's draw appeared "comfortable."
It was a day for gathering with supporters and family members, for cutting a gold cake with "March Madness" written in icing and beginning to dream about how they might become the fifth No. 15 seed to beat a No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Retrievers players jumped to their feet, pumped their fists and exchanged high-fives when they heard "UMBC" called during the selection program.
"It was a dream just to hear your school come up on Selection Sunday," forward Darryl Proctor said. "We figured [the opponent] would either be Georgetown or Duke."
Several players said it will be easier playing a school located in the Baltimore-Washington region. Georgetown might be good, but it's not a mystery.
"I grew up playing against D.C. guys," said Proctor, a transfer from Coppin State who is from District Heights.
"We're happy to play a local school," Greene said. "We're just going to take it like a normal game."
UMBC president Freeman A. Hrabowski III also attended the gathering. He said before the selection program that he hoped to join the team at the game.
"I'm getting e-mails, text messages, phone calls," Hrabowski said. "It's about how proud they are to be UMBC alumni."