If you are a college basketball fan, March is the month you spend all year waiting for.
From conference tournaments to “Selection Sunday” to the search for that one impossible perfect bracket, March holds a certain type of majesty in the sport. So far this year, the nation has gotten more than its money’s worth—and the tournament is only half over.
Every year, March Madness seems to bring with it story lines of excitement that feel as if they were taken off of a movie script. Star players aim to prove themselves before the National Basketball Association draft. Cinderella teams look to shock the nation. Coaches ask teams in their respective locker rooms “why not us?” This year, the world saw something happen in college basketball that has never occurred in the history of the men’s tournament.
Before the start of this year’s March Madness Tournament, teams seeded No. 16 had never made it past their first round, No. 1 seed, opponent. Going into the weekend, No. 16 seeds were 0-135 in the NCAA Tournament. Throughout the tournament’s history, those games were the easiest pick on everyone’s bracket. The games felt more like a formality than a competition. All of that changed on Friday March 16.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County basketball team was set to take on the Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse and No. 1 overall team in the tournament—University of Virginia. Looking from the outside, it seemed as if UMBC, a college normally known for its lacrosse accomplishments, was simply excited to make the “big dance.” To say the expectations were low is an understatement—there were no expectations. The UMBC Retrievers, however, would not hear any of it.
UMBC lost 83-39 to the University of Albany on Jan. 21, in a game during which the Retrievers scored only 12 points in the first half. Meanwhile, the Virginia Cavaliers remained dominant in what was considered the most powerful conference in college basketball this year, the ACC. As is the case with March Madness, previous records do not matter.
After the first half of action, UMBC and Virginia were tied at 21 points. This was a huge accomplishment for the Retrievers, as no one believed they should have even been on the same court as the Cavaliers. The second half, however, was where history was solidified for this research university.
The Retrievers scored 53 points to the Cavaliers’ 33 in the second half, not only defeating the No. 1 seed, but stomping them by 20 points. This was the first time a No. 16 seed has beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s tournament. By a long shot, this was the biggest upset in the history of the tournament.
While this year’s March Madness has had its fair share of big stories, this one trumps them all. What will be the legacy of UMBC after this historic upset? Well, it will be, without a doubt, a story that is talked about at the start of every March Madness Tournament for the foreseeable future.
This may seem like 15 seconds of fame for a small school, but it means something for all of college basketball and sports as a whole. No. 16 seeds in future tournaments will now always think to themselves “UMBC did it in 2018, so why can’t we?” Underdogs everywhere will use this historic win as a benchmark. Coaches will mention them in their pregame speeches.
Thanks to UMBC’s upset against the Virginia Cavaliers, the No. 16 vs. No. 1 seed games are no longer a formality, but ones that will have underdogs hungry for victory and favorites holding their breath, hoping to not find themselves on the wrong side of history.