A Closer Look At The Seemingly Impossible Nature Of The Biggest Upset In March Madness History

UMBC celebrates after beating Virginia in the NCAA Tournament in 2018

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The NCAA Tournament is one of the most anticipated events on the annual sporting calendar, and The Big Dance has spawned some truly incredible drama since the event was introduced all the way back in 1939.

There’s a reason the tourney is widely referred to as “March Madness,” and we’ve been treated to countless examples of teams defying some staggering odds and shocking the world in the process.

One of the reasons so many people tune in to watch the best teams in college basketball do their thing each year is the promise of seeing an underdog go on the type of Cinderella runs that have thrust tiny programs like George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast, and St. Peter’s into the national spotlight.

However, you could argue no school has put the “Madness” in “March Madness” quite like the University of Maryland—Baltimore County (a.k.a. UMBC), which was responsible for what remains the most shocking upset in the history of the tournament thanks to what transpired in 2018.

You’re probably aware the Retrievers stunned the University of Virginia and everyone who watched them knocked the Cavaliers out of the tournament in the first round.

However, it’s worth taking a look back at that contest to appreciate just how wild the upset really was.

Why UMBC had absolutely no business beating Virginia in March Madness

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Prior to 2018, games between the one-seed and the sixteenth seed in the NCAA Tournament were essentially a formality when you consider none of the top four teams had ever been eliminated in the first round since March Madness expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

Virginia was unranked at the start of the 2017-18 campaign, but they quickly emerged as one of the best teams in the country and headed into the tourney having spent five consecutive weeks ranked No. 1 after putting up a 31-3 record over the course of the regular season.

As a result, it wasn’t a shock to see sportsbooks had given Virginia (along with Villanova) the best odds to cut down the nets when everything was said and done.

UVA could credit its success to a formidable roster that was home to four players (Devon Hall, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome, and De’Andre Hunter) who’d eventually end up being selected in the NBA Draft.

UMBC, on the other hand, had posted a fairly respectable 24-10 record ahead of Selection Sunday and had earned the right to go dancing by beating Vermont in the championship game of the American East tournament. However, it’s hard to imagine many (if any) of their players genuinely believed they had the chance to even hold their own against the best team in college basketball that year.

Oddsmakers felt the same way, as they listed the Retrievers as 23.5.-point underdogs ahead of the game that tipped off in Charlotte on the evening of March 18th.

It’s hard to imagine viewers who tuned in for a showdown that began at 9:20 PM imagined they’d have much incentive to stay up to watch it until the final buzzer sounded. However, what should’ve been a cakewalk transformed into a very compelling contest when the two teams headed into the locker room at halftime tied at 21.

It was incredibly reasonable to assume Virginia would make the necessary adjustments and quickly take control of the game once they headed back onto the hardwood. However, UMBC pulled out to a 23-21 lead and never really looked back.

When everything was said and done, the Retrievers earned a resounding 74-54 victory, which meant they came four points away from covering the spread their opponent had been given en route to securing the win.

They were unable to keep the momentum going when they lost to Kansas State by a score of 50-43 in the second round, but they’ll always have a place in March Madness history.

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