A pithy banner hanging on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s campus sums it up well: “Number one seeds: 135-1. We’re the 1.”
Last night, two days after blowing out no. 1-seeded NCAA Tournament favorites University of Virginia in the opening round, the Retrievers nearly made history again playing the Kansas State University Wildcats, taking the game down to the wire. Ultimately, Kansas State forward Xavier Sneed broke it open with just over a minute left. UMBC fell 50-43, seven points shy of becoming the first 16-seeded team to ever reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Even in the wake of the loss, the Retrievers earned nods from all over, for everything from their stellar underdog play to their social media savvy.
No one will remember the teams that make the Final Four in 2018. Everyone will remember UMBC forever.
— Don Van Natta Jr. (@DVNJr) March 19, 2018
Hey UMBC, thanks for the memories. You personify what people love most about college basketball. pic.twitter.com/8r5TxqaFqv
— Rich Eisen (@richeisen) March 19, 2018
UMBC should win the national championship for their twitter account alone pic.twitter.com/JKxEsLxjGI
— tim cato (@tim_cato) March 17, 2018
The feverish hype is paying dividends already. ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell tweeted last night that the university bookstore had received more orders in the last 24 hours than it had in all of the last year. The Sun quoted an estimate from branding consulting firm Apex Marketing Group that UMBC’s print, TV and web advertising exposure was valued at around $33 million after the win over UVA. (Foreseeing some of this, the school’s Twitter mastermind seized a chance to solicit corporate sponsors for its new athletic facility.)
Speaking with NPR, UMBC president Freeman Krabowski III made note of the finances—the matchup against deep-pocketed UVA made for a stark contrast in monetary terms alone, he said—but nevertheless prioritized to the Cinderlla storyline.
“What we had and what we still have is that grit that comes from working in middle class and the belief that you can do all things with that hard work and perseverance, quite frankly,” he said. “So, yes, we all want more money. And we know money does make a difference, make no mistake about that. But there’s something to be said about defying the odds and going against whatever people think would happen and just showing that nobody defines who we are. That’s what’s so inspiring.”
And now, the Retrievers take a breath. They returned home to a heroes’ welcome this morning to watch the rest of the tournament and finish out their semesters as regular students. Star guards Jairus Lyles and K.J. Maura are graduating, and head coach Ryan Odom could be eyeing some big offers in the wake of his newfound coaching fame.
Even if we don’t get to see this squad take the court again, no one will forget this team. And even when that banner eventually comes down, the Retrievers will still be the “1” out of those 136 16-seeded teams. As we said, there was always a chance.