by Alex Poletti
Hoisting the March Madness trophy over their heads, members of the Virginia Cavaliers basketball team must have thought they’d finished a complete arc of redemption. Just one year after Virginia became the first one-seed in NCAA history to lose in the first round of the March Madness tournament, they captured their first ever championship. Or so they thought.
After winning an overtime thriller against Texas Tech, the Cavaliers let their guard down, only to get crushed once again by the cinderella-story 16-seed of 2018, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers.
“Honestly, we weren’t even playing the game at that point,” Virginia guard Kyle Guy says of the team’s surprise loss to UMBC after winning the NCAA tournament. “We just won the tournament, and all of a sudden the whole UMBC squad came out and started dunking on us.”
Although unorthodox, the Retrievers’ strategy of playing against the champs despite the fact that they didn’t make the tournament this year counts as a win according to official NCAA rules.
“If a team hoists up the trophy in celebration,” the rulebook states, “a team that has previously caused the champions humiliation may once again attempt to defeat the champions in an unofficial street-rules pickup style game to claim the title as their own.”
After getting crossed up by UMBC guard KJ Jackson, Virginia coach Tony Bennett appealed to the NCAA, who couldn’t argue with the rules.
“The rules are the rules,” an NCAA representative tells The Second String. “Although this specific rule seems to have been added in crayon rather recently, we still have to respect the rulebook. Otherwise, how would we get away with profiting off of youngins playing sports?”
No one took this loss harder than Guy, who experienced the crushing disappointment of losing to UMBC last year.
“I sat in the shower alone and cried,” Guy says. “Honestly, that’s something I do after every game, but it meant something more tonight.”
When it was Guy’s turn to hold the trophy, Retrievers forward Joe Sherburne knocked the trophy out of his hands Dikembe Mutombo-style before wagging his finger and strutting for the awe-struck fans.
What better way to end an NCAA season that saw Duke and North Carolina eliminated by the elite eight and an overtime finals game than to watch it all get stripped away by the scrappy underdogs who crushed Virginia dreams last year?
“You couldn’t write this ending!” broadcaster Kevin Kugler said after UMBC’s surprising comeback. “And if you did write it, you’d have to be one sick son of a bitch.”