Jairus Lyles crushed Virginia's vaunted defense for 28 points.

Jairus Lyles crushed Virginia’s vaunted defense for 28 points.Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Among the many wonderful things about the greatest upset in college basketball history is that even ardent fans will have to think twice before naming the miraculous team that finally became the first No. 16 seed to win in the NCAA men’s tournament.      

As university acronyms go, UMBC isn’t exactly up there with UCLA, LSU or MIT.       

But the world is rapidly learning about the team with the comma in its name, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The Retrievers—yes, Retrievers—might sound like PETA’s weekend softball team. But on Friday, they fetched a victory that will forever define them as best of show, in the underdog division.

How impossible a task was this?

Going into the game, No. 16 seeds possessed an all-time record of 0-135 in the tournament. And just to make an upset doubly improbable, UMBC was matched with the Virginia Cavaliers, the tournament’s overall top seed whom oddsmakers installed as a 20.5-point favorite, per OddsShark.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

Those same oddsmakers no doubt would have also predicted that the only way UMBC could win was in a nail-biter. It couldn’t possibly miss free throws or commit turnovers and expect to pull off this heist.

Instead, the upstarts from the America East Conference made it all look ridiculously easy. They won going away in what was a laugher for everyone except Cavaliers fans, 74-54. It was like David taking down Goliath and then having a giggle fest about it.

Virginia was 20-1 in games against ACC opponents this season. The Cavs defense crushed the spirit of North Carolina, 61-49, in January. Against then-No. 18 Clemson a couple of weeks later, they won 61-36. Their only losses before Friday night were on the road at West Virginia and in overtime to Virginia Tech.

And how about UMBC’s resume? Well, the Retrievers got lost during an 83-39 loss to almighty Albany in January and about two weeks later got hammered by Vermont by the count of 81-53. At home, no less.

Yet UMBC’s smaller roster, best personified by 5’8″ point guard K.J. Maura, out-rebounded Virginia 33-22

Jairus Lyles was the most lethal giant-killer, scoring 28 points and getting to the rim with shocking ease against what many thought was the nation’s best defensive team. And, just to rub it in for UVA loyalists, both his parents are Virginia alums. Ouch!

No one on Virginia’s bewildered team had more than 15 points or five rebounds, and the Cavaliers distributed the ball for a mere five assists.

Equally stunning was that UMBC head coach Ryan Odom could not have been more blase about the victory during his postgame interview on CBS. He was collected while talking in a monotone about how his Retrievers had improved in recent weeks, but maybe he’ll get a little more amped up when his $10,000 bonus lands. 

“We got our butts whipped,” Virginia head coach Tony Bennett readily admitted to CBS afterward, via ESPN.com. “That was not even close. And that’s first a credit to the job Ryan did. Coach Odom, their offense was very hard to guard. They shot it well. We kept getting broken down and did a poor job.”

How could it suddenly be so easy for a 16th seed?

If fans had given up on ever seeing the planets align for a No. 16 victory, they couldn’t be blamed. We had taken the bait on this tease so many times, only to be heartlessly denied.

The worst of the heartbreak came in 1989, when not one but two No. 1 seeds came within a whisker and an eyelash of falling. Princeton executed the backdoor cuts of coach Pete Carril’s perplexing offense with razor-sharp effectiveness but still fell to Georgetown by a single point, 50-49. Also losing by just a point to Oklahoma, 72-71, was East Tennessee State, which had been up by 17 in the first half.

Gerry Broome/Associated Press

A year later, forward Popeye Jones inspired plenty of spinach-eating analogies as his No. 16 Murray State team took No. 1 Michigan into overtime before losing 75-71.

And in 1996, Western Carolina missed its last two desperation shots while getting nudged out of the history books by Purdue, 73-71.

One irony is that the NCAA thrives on the March Madness reputation of its tournament, but a warning on its official website told fans this year not to make the mistake of picking a No. 16 to win.

NCAA.com’s Daniel Wilco wrote: “Don’t pick a 16-seed to upset a 1-seed. Just…don’t.” And for good reasons beyond the seed’s 0-for-forever record.    

As Wilco noted, going into this year’s tourney: Only 15 No. 1-No. 16 games had been decided by fewer than 10 points and none since 2014.

Last time a 1 vs. 16 seed came down to a one-possession game was the Purdue-Western Carolina thriller in 1996.

In the last 11 years, 13 1 vs. 16 games had been decided by more than 30 points. And all-time, the average winning margin for No. 1s over No. 16s was 24.9 points.

Until now, of course.   

Tom Weir covered 15 Final Fours as a columnist for USA Today.