You knew this was going to happen. Well, maybe you didn't see it happening this year, but it was bound to happen eventually. If you take some basketball team from a Podunk university, and match them up with the big boys, the little guys are bound to win one. You've seen Hoosiers, right? Yes, that was high school in Indiana, and this is the big dance, but give them 136 chances and they'll win one.
Yes, that's how many times it took. On Friday night, for the first time since the National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball tournament expanded to at least 64 teams in 1985, a team seeded as the best in its region, fell to a team that was considered the worst. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers knocked off the Virginia Cavaliers 74-54. I mean not only did UMBC win the game, they clobbered the overall number one team in the country. I mean it wasn't even close.
Going into the tournament, Virginia was 31-2. They won a conference where titles are usually reserved for Duke or North Carolina. UMBC had losses to schools like Stony Brook and Albany. They upset Vermont to make it this far. They were just happy to be there. That is, until they played.
The game was tied at 21 at halftime—a low scoring game to be sure. Virginia couldn't hit the three-pointer, and the Retrievers pulled away in the second half. Baltimore County's point guard was listed at 5-foot-8. He said he was 5-7 “on a good day”. He had 10 points. Jairus Lyles led the Cinderellas with 28. Fans might remember a Virginia loss in 1982 when they were led by a guy named Ralph Sampson, and fell to a school no one ever heard of named Chaminade. That was a holiday tournament in Hawai'i. This was undoubtedly the greatest upset in the sport's history—at least in the post season.
There's a song called A Dying Cub Fan's Last Request (written before the Cubs won the World Series in 2016). In it is the best line... “The law of averages says anything will happen that can. But the last time the Cubs won the National League pennant, was the year we dropped the bomb on Japan.” In other words, things will happen if you wait long enough. The Cubs went to the World Series in 1945 and didn't get back until 2016. They won it that year, for the first time since 1908.
If you look at it this way, you could say that 16 seeds have fared better than the Cubs. Sure they were 0-135 until Friday night, but there were some close calls. You only have to go back four years when Arizona survived a scare by Weber State. The Utah school was down 18 points, and rallied to within seven in the final minute. U of A hung on 68-59. In 1989, just a few years removed from when 'March Madness' was truly born (the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the same year that Villanova upset Georgetown to win the title), there were two close calls. Number 1 Georgetown beat 16th seed Princeton 50-49, and Oklahoma defeated East Tennessee State 72-71. The following year, sixteenth seed Murray State took Michigan State to overtime, but lost 75-71.
It was going to happen, and it was the Retrievers of Maryland-Baltimore County that had their one shining moment. They played fairly well in the second round, but lost to Kansas State, but like those kids in Hoosiers, or even the 2016 Cubs, it finally happened. Champions in their own way.
Conference of Champions: So much for the Pac-12. UCLA was embarrassed by St. Bonaventure, and might as well have stayed home. Arizona State also lost a play-in game to Syracuse--the last team to make the field, and fourth seed Arizona was one of the first upset victims, to Buffalo. And we were mad that the Pac-12 didn't get no respect.
Brackets busted: The tournament field has been narrowed from 68 teams down to 16, but only seven of the top 16 teams are still there. Two number one seeds (Virginia and Xavier), two number two seeds (North Carolina and Cincinnati), two number three seeds (Tennessee and Michigan State), and three number four seeds (Arizona, Wichita State, and Auburn) are all out. The South Region has all four of its top seeds out, and the West is missing its top two. Eleventh seed Syracuse, which was the very last team to make the field, is still there, and so is fellow number-11 seed Loyola-Chicago. Nevada came from 22 points down with 12 minutes to go to beat Cincinnati, and only turned the ball over twice in the entire game. And for the second straight year, the defending champion was knocked out in the second round. Too bad UCLA laid an egg in its 'play-in' game against St. Bonaventure, or they might be in this thing.
Breaking news (literally): With just 10 days until baseball's Opening Day, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner was hit by a pitch in an exhibition game against Oakland, and broke his wrist. There is no timetable for his return, but this opens a spot on a roster that looked pretty well set going into the season.
The cheatin' side of town (Part II): Last week it was Kansas City Royals outfielder Jorge Bonafacio. This week it's Minnesota Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco—suspended 80 games for using performance enhancing drugs. “I know how everything happened and the details, but today is not the day to discuss those things,” Polanco told the media in Spanish through an interpreter. Just curious, when is the time? In addition to not being able to return until July, he will be ineligible for postseason play. Still a light punishment for someone trying to cheat himself, his teammates, and the game.