Trying to repeat history

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Maryland-Baltimore County might not have shocked the world three years ago, but the ripples of becoming the first 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament definitely extended to distant shores.

“The sporting spectacle whose overarching allure is chaos,” reported The Guardian in England, “was finally graced with the mother of all upsets … the greatest of (tournament) surprises in the most shocking way imaginable.”

The Retrievers employed a second-half blitz to belt Virginia, 74-54, in Charlotte. Close calls and near-misses had occurred on college basketball’s grandest stage for several decades. The breakthrough finally arrived on March 16, 2018.

Virginia had also been the top overall seed, a 20.5-point favorite against UMBC — whose money line was about +2000. A few weeks earlier, The Guardian mentioned, those same Retrievers had lost to Albany by 44 points.

“Made a mockery of the pundits, both armchair and professional,” wrote the paper, noting that until that Friday 16-seeds had played 135 first-round games against No. 1s, losing all of them by an average of nearly 25 points.

UMBC senior guard Jairus Lyles, now playing in Slovenia, led everyone with 28 points and said he and teammates never felt overmatched by the Cavaliers.

The current UMBC team shoots free throws better and hits shots inside the 3-point arc at a higher rate than its history-making predecessor. This iteration, however, is mediocre from long range, at 32.9%.

The 2017-18 Retrievers were among the country’s top 40 from distance, at 38.2%. That was the overarching key against the Cavaliers as BC nailed half of its 24 attempts from downtown, Virginia only 2-for-22.

The only remaining links to that special BC squad are post players Brandon Horvath, who leads the Retrievers in scoring (14.9 ppg) and on the boards (8.3 rpg), and Daniel Akin, who averages 8.7 and 7.6, respectively.

And, of course, coach Ryan Odom, son of former Wake Forest and South Carolina boss Dave Odom whom athletic director Tim Hall had wisely hired from Division-II Lenoir-Rhyne in 2016.

Baltimore County had endured seven consecutive single-digit-victory seasons, but Odom brought instant success as the Retrievers went 21-13 in his first campaign. The triumph for the ages capped his second season.

Virginia, of course, rebounded to win it all in 2019. Hall, who had been instrumental in the construction of the $90-million UMBC Event Center, moved on to Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in July 2019.

Odom’s salary was nearly doubled, his contract extended through 2023. A dalliance with Virginia Tech was a brief tap dance.

UMBC (10-3 overall, atop the America East at 6-2) finishes the regular season at home, against second-place Vermont, on Feb. 27 and 28, which will affect seedings for the conference tournament.

In ’18, the Retrievers were seeded second in their tournament. They won two and, as 10.5-point underdogs, beat top-seeded Vermont, 65-62, to secure a date with destiny six days later.

The current Retrievers have a poor assists-to-turnovers rate and a sluggish offense. And while Akin is a program pillar his free-throw touch (fewer than half go in) is anything but dependable.

Bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Stony Brook winning the America East and participating in a First Four play-in game, against Long Island, in the NCAAs, to be played entirely in Indiana.

All of which means Odom & Co. are poised, once again, for foes to take them lightly, but they will discount unforgettable Maryland-Baltimore County at their own peril.

The mother of all upsets just might have a sister.

Saturday

Buffalo -11 at Northern Illinois: The Huskies are 2-10 overall and against the number, covering as a double-digit dog only once in five such games. With a top-10 effective possession ratio of 1.000, Buffalo is more efficient than Arizona and Ohio State. Northern Illinois is flat-out … horrible. BUFFALO

Maryland-Baltimore County at UMass-Lowell, Total 137: Quick, what’s Lowell’s nickname? Twelve of its 14 games have finished Under. BC has a clampdown defense inside the arc, allowing foes to hit only 42.3% of their attempts, 11th-lowest in the country. (Lowell is the River Hawks.) UNDER

Bucknell at Colgate -13: With a top-four national 3-point offense (42.9%) and 3-point defense (23.9%), Colgate controls both perimeters. Its average scoring margin of 26.6 is best in the land, and that’s 30.3 over its past three games. COLGATE

Kent State at Toledo -7: The Rockets own a nifty assists-to-turnovers ratio of 1.476, 15th in the nation, which is even better (2.031) over their past three games. TOLEDO

Last week: 0-4

Season: 14-10

About the Author

Rob Miech

Veteran sportswriter Rob Miech covers soccer and does features for Gaming Today. He has written about college hoops for the Las Vegas Sun, CBS SportsLine and the Pasadena Star-News. He is the author of four books, including Sports Betting for Winners, which was published in 2019.

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