March Madness, the time of year when college students constantly flip-flop between taking notes and watching the tournament unravel before their eyes. It takes a toll on productivity, as workers spend hours dedicating themselves to creating the “perfect” bracket. Last year, corporate productivity losses during the month amounted to $6.3 billion last year.
We witnessed a thrilling opening matchup between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Rhode Island Rams, a game that went into overtime and concluded freshman guard sensation Trae Young’s season. Following this game, Loyola-Chicago and Miami clashed to the very last second, where Loyola senior guard Donte Ingram knocked down a dagger three-point shot with 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock.
The insanity didn’t stop though, as the highly favored Arizona Wildcats were bulldozed by the Buffalo Bulls 68-89. Arizona couldn’t find ways to neutralize Buffalo’s speedy guards, who consistently drove to the basket at will with not a single help-side defender at sight. Projected number one pick and forward De’Andre Ayton simply could not do it all for the Wildcats, posting only 14 points along 13 rebounds.
Thursday has taught us that anything can happen at any given time, so every opponent must be taken seriously regardless of the conference they play in or injuries they are facing in their lineups.
Virginia Basketball is slated to play UMBC, a small school of 11,000 students in Baltimore, Maryland. As the number one seed, Virginia must take care of business and not overlook a team that has nothing significant to lose. The UMBC Retrievers will come out gunning and do everything in their power to scratch up this Virginia defense.
Below are my preview and prediction for the game.
Preview and Prediction: Virginia Basketball vs UMBC Retrievers
Last week, Virginia fans received the worse news possible entering the big dance. ACC Sixth Man Of The Year and freshman sensation De’Andre Hunter was officially listed as out for the rest of the tournament. Hunter is the fourth leading scorer for Virginia, averaging 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. His defensive versatility and keenness to detail, allowed him to thrive under head coach Tony Bennett. His ability to guard four positions and actively use his hands on ball-screens is troublesome for opposing players. His rebounding and defensive skillsets will be heavily missed especially for the number one defense in the nation.
Offensively, Hunter was instrumental, driving to the basket at will and stretching the floor with his three-point ability. His most impressive game came against ACC opponent, the Miami Hurricanes. He scored a game-high 22 points on 50% shooting on the floor and from downtown.
No need to worry though, as Virginia still has a bevy of go-to scorers to rely on. They are led by all first-team ACC shooting guard Kyle Guy, an unbelievable sharpshooter averaging 14.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. His ability to space the floor with his range sets up mid-range and driving opportunities for Virginia seniors Isaiah Wilkins and Devon Hall, the fifth and second-leading scorers on the team respectively.
The UMBC Retrievers enter this game as 22.5 point underdogs but are ready to come out gunning against Virginia. They are led by senior guard Jairus Lyles, who is averaging 20.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game. Though his sophomore year was the most productive, Lyles has steadily improved his three-point shot, increasing his percentage from 34.2% to 38.7%.
UMBC’s only shot of pulling this historic upset is mirroring Buffalo’s playbook from last night. Find a way to get going from downtown. They will not beat Virginia driving into the paint, especially right into the pack-line defense.
Virginia will stymie UMBC and score in bunches especially against a team ranked 101st in points allowed per game.