For the second time in the history of their program, the UMBC Retrievers are going dancing.
The last time the Retrievers made the tournament was a decade ago, in 2008. That year, the 15 seed Retrievers lost to No. 2 Georgetown in the first round by 15 points. This year, UMBC is a 16 seed and will face overall No. 1 Virginia on Friday in Charlotte.
Chances for UMBC to pull off an epic upset are slim, but let’s get to know Odom’s squad.
What exactly does UMBC stand for? And where is it?
Oh, right. Y’all aren’t from Maryland. This is the University of Maryland Baltimore County (not to be confused with University of Maryland Eastern Shore). The Retrievers’ campus is about 10 miles west of Baltimore in Catonsville. They are the Old Line State’s lone representative in the NCAA Tournament.
Who is their coach?
Odom has been the coach of UMBC for the past two seasons. He’s led them to back-to-back seasons of 21-plus wins. Before he arrived, they had seven straight seasons of nine wins or less.
Odom, 43, played his college ball as a point guard at Division III Hampden-Sydney. He spent time as an assistant on staffs at Furman, UNC Asheville, American, Virginia Tech, and Charlotte. Briefly in 2015, he was the interim coach at Charlotte and the 49ers went 8-11 under his tutelage.
Between Charlotte and UMBC, he coached a season at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, taking the Bears to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Ryan is the son of Dave Odom, who won two ACC titles and three NIT titles as the head coach of Wake Forest and South Carolina.
I don’t really watch Mid-Majors. Is there a player from UMBC I would know?
There are two players you should absolutely know.
The first is Jairus Lyles, who was mentioned above as the team’s savior in the America East title game. Lyles is a 6’2 guard from nearby DeMatha Catholic High School. He played one season at VCU before transferring to UMBC.
Lyles led the America East in points (20.2 per game), steals (64) and usage percentage (30.9). He also averaged 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
The other guy to know for UMBC is K.J. Maura, the 5’8 point guard who packs a punch. He is the shortest player ever to win the America East Defensive Player of the Year award.
A senior and native of Puerto Rico, he played a season at Abilene Christian before coming to UMBC. This season, he is averaging 11.4 points, 5.2 assists, 2.1 steals and 2.2 rebounds per game. He also shoots 42 percent from beyond the arc. He led the America East in assists with 162.
The rest of the roster
Arkel Lamar is a solid do-it-all guy for the Retrievers. He leads them in rebounds (5.5 per game) and blocks (17). The 6’5 sophomore guard is also UMBC’s best three-point threat, making 43 percent of his shots from deep.
Daniel Akin, a 6’9 freshman from across the pond in Eltham, England, has been savvy on the offensive boards, grabbing 45 of them this season.
Junior forward Joe Sherburne averages 10.9 points per game.
The Baltimore Sun | K.J. Maura emerges as UMBC’s small wonder
The Washington Post | Jairus Lyles chose a bigger legacy at a mid-major
The Burlington Free-Press | UMBC stuns UVM basketball with buzzer-beater
The Athletic | UMBC coach helps give hope to children struggling with OCD
The Baltimore Sun | How Jairus Lyles and UMBC’s President reached ‘BFF’ status
Can they win?
Sadly, probably not. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Virginia is a really, really, really good basketball team. They’re No. 1 in KenPom while UMBC is 184.
While the Cavaliers are great at defense and grinding teams into nothing, UMBC isn’t really exceptional in any single area. In its own conference, UMBC finished fourth in offense, fifth in defense and third in scoring margin. The Retrievers did, however, lead the America East in assists per game (15.5), turnover margin (+2.55), and three-pointers made per game (10.2).
When tested against bigger conference opponents this season, UMBC went 0-3, falling to SMU, Arizona, and Maryland.
The Retrievers would have to play perfect basketball to pull off the 16-over-1 upset, and against Virginia, even that may not be enough.
For whatever it’s worth, UMBC is the nation’s luckiest team, per KenPom’s luck rating, with a +.145 mark. They’ll need a lot of that.