What would politics or sports be without the occasional earth-shaking upset?
It was late Friday night, on St. Patty”s Eve, at the tail end of the typically exhausting first round of college basketball’s ultimate competition, the NCAA tournament, when only die-hard hoop fans remained to get their final fix, albeit in a game which showed almost zero promise of being competitive. But the die-hards were doubtless joined by late-arriving rubberneckers hearing news of an unfolding upset of epic proportions in what is aptly called March Madness.
And when it was all over, UMBC had turned from an unknown acronym to a household word after pulling off the greatest upset in college basketball history. As 20 point underdogs, the bottom seed in a 16 team bracket and ranked 63rd in the 68 team tournament, the unknown University of Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers not just beat, but utterly dismantled the number one team in the entire nation, the Virginia Cavaliers. To describe the reaction in all quarters as shock and awe would be an understatement. Final score: UMBC 74, Virginia 54.
As someone who’s spent years watching mostly the lopsided games early in the tournament hoping to see an epic upset, this was the long-awaited reward. It was the first time in 136 tries that a #16 seed beat a #1 seed. But for deeper context, consider that Virginia had risen to the top of the basketball world with a 31-2 record and captured the title in the best conference in the country, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), and was considered a good bet to go all the way.
UMBC, on the other hand, is a commuter school and research university in suburban Baltimore which had awful teams for most of their history and had never won a game in the big dance. They had barely made the field by winning the championship of their own lightly-regarded league on a last-second shot, after being written off just two months ago in the wake of a 44 point drubbing at the hands of an equally obscure team from Albany.
And yet somehow, on this night in Charlotte, obscure UMBC made mincemeat of their top-ranked opponent. The NCAA tournament theme is One Shining Moment, and UMBC’s performance was all of that. It was a once-in-a-lifetime harmonic convergence – the very best game one team could possibly play, and the very worst possible performance by the other.
The Real Victors?
Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction. But this monumental upset brings back to mind what happened just over 16 months ago. It was the culmination of a political campaign that saw a bombastic billionaire with zero political experience and 100-1 odds against him taking on a field of 15 candidates who were the best the Republican party had to offer. And if he could somehow vanquish all of them, he would have to take on the first woman ever to win a major party nomination with a wealth of treasure and political experience.
We all know how that one turned out, and it begs a question worth considering, for the sake of good clean fun if nothing else. Forgetting the comparative stakes of these two upsets – winning a basketball game hardly equates to winning the presidency – which is the bigger upset, Trump 2016 or UMBC 2018? Comment below!