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#16 UMBC Makes March Madness History; How Far Can Retrievers Run?

Sascha Paruk

by Sascha Paruk in College Basketball

Updated Mar 17, 2018 · 12:21 AM PDT

UMBC's Arkel Lamar guards Virginia's Nigel Johnson
Arkel Lamar (R) and UMBC pulled off the biggest upset in March Madness history by beating Nigel Johnson (L) and #1 Virginia in the Round of 64. Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire.
  • UMBC just became the first #16 seed to beat a #1 seed, ending a 135-game drought.
  • How did it happen, and what should bettors do when they face Kansas State on Sunday (Mar. 18th)?

Did you wake up this morning and notice that the “Best Possible” column in your bracket is a lot lower than when you went to sleep? That’s because it finally happened. A #1 seed lost in the First Round. The #16 UMBC (University of Baltimore – Maryland County) Retrievers knocked off #1 overall seed Virginia in stunning fashion, turning a 21-21 halftime tie into a 74-54 rout. In other words, they scored 53 points in the second half against the best defense of the KenPom era, a defense that held opponents to 53.4 PPG total over the course of the year.

How did it happen?

Virginia’s offense looked out of sorts from the opening tip, and when UMBC got hot to open the second half, it completely unraveled. Tony Bennett’s squad, which literally plays at the slowest pace of all 351 Division I teams, attempted to speed things up in an effort to close the gap, and it looked like they were trying to read a Bulgarian translation of Finnegans Wake. Instead of running their sets, they settled for contested jumpers and then weren’t in position to get back on defense, giving up a shocking number of transition baskets.

Full credit to UMBC, of course, for taking and making those transition shots. They knew they weren’t going to get better looks against Virginia’s pack-line by waiting. Playing slow is playing into Virginia’s hands.

The Retrievers finished the night 12-24 from three and shot over 50% from the field (26-48, 54.2%), led by Jairus Lyles (28 PTS, 9-11 FG). Now #8 Kansas State awaits in the Round of 32.

Will the Cinderella story continue?

UMBC vs Kansas State

Kansas State is sort of like diet Virginia. They play slow (305th in tempo) and battle on every defensive possession. They make life hard. While their offense isn’t, statistically, as efficient as Virginia’s, it does have the capacity to be more dynamic. Barry Brown can get buckets on his own better than anyone on Virginia and, importantly, he’s one of the best defensive guards in the country. Bruce Weber will sic him on Lyles, who will find life much more difficult on Sunday.

Let the public money come in on the feel-good story and [shorten the spread.] Then jump on the Wildcats shortly before tip-off …

The line for this game is likely to be in the Kansas State -10.5 range when it opens. Let the public money come in on the feel-good story and push it to single digits. Then jump on the Wildcats shortly before tip-off and, like a true Debby Downer, root against the coolest thing that’s ever happened in March Madness, because it’s the smart move.

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