The Retrievers were best known for their chess program until Friday night. That may change.
A mid-size liberal arts school located just west of downtown Baltimore pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history on Friday night, as UMBC stunned Virginia with a 74–54 victory that marked the first time a 16-seed had ever beaten a No. 1 seed in 136 first-round meetings. Now that the Retrievers are the darlings of the sports world, it's time to get familiar.
What is UMBC?
UMBC, which stands for University of Maryland, Baltimore County, opened in 1966 and has since grown to an enrollment of 13,662 (11,234 undergraduate, 2,428 graduates) as of the Fall 2017 semester. It is located in Catonsville, roughly a 20 minute drive from the heart of Baltimore. Famous alumni include Jeffrey “Duff” Goldman, star of the Food Network show Ace of Cakes; actress Kathleen Turner; James P. Clements, the current president of Clemson; and the previous and current Surgeons General of the United States, Sylvia Trent-Adams and Jerome Adams.
The school’s inaugural class chose the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the official state dog of Maryland, to be its mascot—a 500-pound retriever statue bearing the mascot’s name True Grit sits on campus, and students are said to rub the statue’s nose for good luck. And although its lacrosse program has produced a handful of pros, before Friday night the school was probably best known in intercollegiate competition for its chess team, which reached 15 consecutive Final Fours until its streak was snapped in 2015 and has won 10 Pan-American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships. Better yet, the students own the chess culture.
How’d They Get Here?
The Retrievers went 25–10 in the regular season and finished second in the America East, but they were blown out by the only two major-conference opponents they faced, Arizona (103–78) and Maryland (66–45). UMBC needed a buzzer-beating three from Jairus Lyles to top Vermont in the America East tournament and clinch the program’s second tournament bid ever. Its reward? A date with the 31–2 and No. 1 overall seed Cavaliers in Charlotte. Lyles played hero once again, this time against the school both his parents went to, pouring in 28 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
Lyles wasn’t the only Retriever with UVA ties on Friday. Second-year head coach Ryan Odom, whom UMBC hired from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne (N.C.) College in 2016, served as a Virginia ball boy in the mid-80s.
UMBC takes on Kansas State, the No. 9 seed in the South Region, on Sunday in Charlotte. The Wildcats dispatched eighth-seeded Creighton 69–59 earlier on Friday. Every win from here will mark unprecedented history for the Retrievers and college basketball at large. No team seeded lower than No. 11 has ever reached the Final Four (three 11-seeds have accomplished the feat, most recently VCU in 2011). And if you want to look a few weeks ahead, the lowest seed to win a national championship was No. 8 Villanova in 1985.