Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to a 64-team format, No. 1 seeds were undefeated. On more than 130 occasions, top seeds took care of business against No. 16 seeds and, while there have been some scares over the years, it always felt at least somewhat safe to project the top four teams in the field advancing to the second round.
On Friday night, however, that changed forever, as UMBC put together a performance for the ages, taking it to No. 1 overall seed Virginia (while stunting on Twitter for all to see) and emerging with a stunning 74-54 victory. While the first No. 16 seed to pull off the upset was always going to come under scrutiny, nothing felt fluky about this particular result, with the Retrievers utterly dominating the action after halftime in wild and memorable fashion.
Early in the action, it felt as if it would be an uninspiring, yet ho-hum victory for Virginia, as the Cavaliers led out of the gate. Still, UMBC battled back to tie the game at 21-21 after 20 minutes and, coming out of the halftime break, the big run emerged.
The Retrievers zoomed to a 17-3 spurt to claim a 14-point lead with 15:52 remaining and, from there, the underdogs simply just kept making shots. In fact, it went beyond the typical upset model of a team with lesser talent making threes, as UMBC just kept finishing around the rim.
There were, of course, long-range connections and the No. 16 seed finished 12 of 24 from beyond the three-point arc for good measure.
In the aftermath of this particular result, plenty of ire will be directed at a Virginia team that had plenty of issues scoring points. It is, of course, an easy target given the program’s reputation for ugly basketball and, all told, the Cavaliers shot just 41.1 percent from the floor and failed to generate real signs of a comeback in the late moments.
With that said, UMBC played incredible basketball (especially when compared to their baseline level of performance) and that combination was a deadly one for the team that rightly earned the No. 1 overall position in the tournament. UMBC’s magic may not continue through the entire opening weekend but, for 40 minutes on Friday night, the sporting world was captivated by a team that wasn’t expected to compete, much less upset, Virginia.