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Did UMBC Pull Off the Greatest Upset in Sports History?

The Retrievers became the first men’s #16 seed to beat a #1 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament.

If you went to bed early on Friday night, you kinda missed something.

The University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) men’s basketball team — who needed a buzzer-beating three pointer just to win their conference tournament — not only beat overall #1 seed Virginia to become the first men’s #16 seed to ever accomplish that feat, they smashed the Cavaliers by 20 points.

The 74-54  first-round victory was unreal and improbable in so many ways:

  • #1 seeds were 135-0 against #16 seeds
  • UVA was the top-ranked defensive team in the country
  • UMBC had lost to Albany by 44 points this season
  • UVA won the ACC regular season and tournament titles, a conference with five teams in the top 25
  • UVA was the favorite to win the entire tournament
  • UMBC was a school better known for it’s powerhouse chess teams. Yes, chess.
  • UMBC coach Ryan Odom grew up in Charlottesville, Virginia

The Retrievers rode the inspiring performance of Jairus Lyles (who’s parents both graduated from UVA!), who scored 28 points and sliced the vaunted UVA defense apart in the second half, in which his team scored 53 points, the same amount that the Cavaliers had been giving up per game this season.

As good and magical as UMBC’s performance was, Virginia was equally awful. Though the game was tied at half, when the Cavaliers fell behind, they panicked, hoisting up ill-advised three-point shots and missing almost all of them. And they pretty much forgot how to play defense.

What what was previously considered the greatest college basketball upset of all time also involved UVA. The school’s top ranked team lost a regular season game to lowly NAIA team Chaminade in 1982. And in women’s hoops, the #16 Harvard women beat #1 seed Stanford in 1998, on the Cardinal’s home court.

A quick glance at the internet this morning finds UMBC’s stunning win being compared to Joe Namath and the New Jets upset win in Super Bowl III, Buster Douglas knocking out Mike Tyson in 1990 and the mother of all sports upsets, the U.S. men’s Olympic Hockey team Miracle on Ice win over the USSR in 1980.

We’re not sure where this one will rank, but the morning after it feels pretty monumental. And it certainly has to be the single biggest bracket buster of all time.

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