No. 16 UMBC over No. 1 Virginia will change March Madness forever
Five words we've waited decades to come true finally did Friday night: A 16 beat a 1.
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Remember the date March 16, 2018: The day the the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and the University of Virginia made history. They made it together and in doing so they changed the NCAA Tournament, the greatest event in sports, forever.
UMBC, the No. 16 seed out of the South Regional, pulled off the biggest stunner -- and now the most memorable upset -- in the chronicle of the this glorious sporting event with a 74-54 victory over the No. 1 overall seed.
March hasn't gone mad: It's lost its damn mind. Lunacy never felt so good. The final wall for single-game results has come down.
UMBC's first NCAA Tournament win in school history is also the most historic win in NCAA Tournament history.
You'll never forget that score: 74-54. And if you saw a legend in real time, you'll never forget where you were as it happened or how it looked as it took shape. Unforgettable. Momentous. Dominant. UMBC didn't beat Virginia, it eradicated it from the bracket and left a plume of smoke that will hover over the sport for decades. Every No. 16 from now on will have an idol. Every squad seeded on the bottom line can find a reason to believe thanks to four letters: U-M-B-C.
For Virginia, it's pain and it's embarrassment. The school that already had infamy attached to its name as a No. 1 team -- it lost to Chaminade as the top-ranked school in 1982 -- has two infamous losses that are so unlikely they are to become fable.
It's a stain that will never be removed, a scarlet letter on the program.
No coach is better equipped to handle this kind of loss than Tony Bennett.
"A week ago we were cutting down the nets at ACC Tournament," Bennett said. "The adulation, the praise, it comes and we got a lot of that this year. Then on the other side, they'll be blame and people pointing that out. That can't, in the end, you know, define these guys and our team or us."
But for him, and for Virginia, it will. Forever.
"If you play this game and you step into the arena, this stuff can happen," Bennett said. "And those who haven't been in the arena or in the competition, maybe they don't understand that. But there's chances for wonderful things to happen, but when you're in the arena, stuff like this can happen and all those who compete take that on. And so we'll accept it."
You can poke fun or mock Bennett's slow-it-down style, but going snarky feels unnecessarily evil in the immediacy of such a shocker. Friday's epic should not be about that. For everyone not affiliated with Virginia, UMBC's sport-shaking outcome should only mean joy and amazement. We've waited decades for what was, from 1985 until 2017, proven to be impossible while hoping (if not knowing) it was inevitable.
Now it is material.
It has happened. For the 136th time a No. 16 played a No. 1. For the first time, a No. 16 beat a No. 1.
Not just a No. 1 -- the best No. 1. The No. 1 overall seed. Virginia was the best team in college basketball. It earned its spot in this field with 31 wins and two losses. Its standing above the 67 other teams in this year's bracket only makes this better, more implausible, more indelible.
It's an outcome for the ages, a decision that will define this year's tournament. No matter what else happens, no matter who makes the Final Four and whatever team wins the championship, 2018 will be the year a No. 16 finally beat a No. 1 in men's basketball. It is and will always be the year UMBC beat Virginia -- with flare and dominance.
That only adds to the lore. This wasn't an acronym-nobody bobbing and weaving and holding onto hope of pulling off the unthinkable in the closing seconds. This was dominance and it was not luck. UMBC was the better team. It won by 20 -- after being a 20.5-point underdog. It's the largest margin of victory ever for a team seeded 14th or lower.
Fitting term, that: underdog. The Retrievers were the first team to put up more than 70 on the Cavaliers this season. They scored 53 second-half points, which is something Virginia had not allowed since 2013. UMBC shot 54 percent, the best of any team this season against the Wahoos.
In a loss, Virginia looked alien to itself. Flat and blank. If it's possible to demonstrate how to drown without water, Virginia did it. The team was zapped of its power and energy, as if no one in a Cavaliers uniform would be capable of beating UMBC on Friday night.
And now the box has been opened. The present we've waited for since the field expanded in 1985 has been given to us. We only get this once, so embrace and bask in it now. It might take a year or 20 before we see it happen again, but we only see it for the first time this time. Thankfully, it came in a way no one could have ever expected: against the best team in the sport and with the command and composure of a top seed.
For a night, UMBC took over the world and looked like the best team in college basketball. It went from a 23-game losing streak against its league rival, Vermont, to winning on a buzzer-beater at Vermont in the America East championship game in order to get into the tournament to begin with.
But once you're in, you have a chance. UMBC got in. Barely.
There will be stories written every year from now until no one else on UMBC is alive to tell those stories. Speaking of them, the guys on the team, on the occasion of the incredible benchmark of American sports, it seems only appropriate list every player and coach on that roster.
The Retriever players who made this happen: Daniel Akin Max Curran, Nolan Gerrity, Jourdan Grant, Brandon Horvath, Ishmail Jabbie, Arkel Lamar, Jairus Lyles, K.J. Maura, David Park, Max Portmann, Isaiah Rogers, Josh Rosario, Sam Schweitz and Joe Shelburne. The coaches include head coach Ryan Odom, plus assistants Nate Dixon, Eric Skeeters and Bryce Crawford.
Three seasons ago, UMBC won four games -- total. The program sunk to the depths of the worst of Division I. It brought in Odom to turn the program around. On Friday night, the program turned college basketball upside down.
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County is forever attached to one of the stunning, indelible outcomes in American sports history. This is Virginia's darkest hour, but it's UMBC's legacy. The Cavaliers may have to shoulder this loss, but the Retrievers get to ride the win forever.
It's an imagination no more. They were the five most hopeful words in college basketball: A 16 beat a 1. They are now true, they are now real, they are why we love this sport and this tournament.
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