The historic underdogs take their act into Round 2
Zero-and-135: That was the combined record of No. 16 seeds against No. 1s in the history of the NCAA Tournament, prior to UMBC's remarkable upset of Virginia on Friday in South Region play.
Guard Jairus Lyles shot the lights out, six days removed from stunning America East Conference favorite Vermont with a similar offensive barrage. Can the Retrievers' star scorer, who came up limping a few times in Friday's historic, lead No. 16 to the Sweet 16?
UMBC faces a tough Kansas State bunch, which dominated Creighton much of the way in a 69-59 win on Friday.
South Region: No. 16 UMBC Retrievers (25-10) vs. No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats (23-11)
Time: 7:45 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Where: Spectrum Center (Charlotte)
Keys for UMBC
Statistically, much of UMBC's profile is typical for a 16-seed — which is to say, there's a reason such programs went 0-135 before the Retrievers' upset of Virginia. However, two stats do stand out, and tell the story of both UMBC's road to the NCAA Tournament, as well as its historic win.
The Retrievers shoot better than 38 percent from behind the 3-point line, with Jairus Lyles (38.9 percent) and Arkel Lamar (41.8 percent) setting the pace. Their team average ranks in the upper 90th percentile of all teams this college basketball season, and played an integral part in the win over Virginia. UMBC shot a remarkable 50 percent from deep against the nation's premier defense.
What's more, the Retrievers limited turnovers — and that's this team's M.O. The other telling statistic for UMBC is that it coughs up the ball on just 17 percent of possessions. Point guard K.J. Maura, a dazzling ball-handler who weaves through defenders despite being all of 5-foot-8, must continue to control Retriever possessions against a Kansas State defense that forces turnovers 21.4 percent of the time.
Keys for Kansas State
The loss of big man Dean Wade to injury during the Big 12 Tournament limits one area in which Kansas State would have had a tremendous advantage, though the Wildcats maintain an edge with their overall size against UMBC.
UMBC's game plan flows through a lineup with 6-foot-6 Joe Sherburne as one of the biggest players on the floor. Kansas State isn't overly big with Wade out of the rotation, instead playing 6-foot-9 Makol Mawien at the center spot, and 6-foot-5 Xavier Sneed shifting to the four.
However, not a single Wildcat is under 6-foot-3 in the primary rotation. Kansas State can use its collective length to control the glass — something Virginia failed to do, getting badly out-rebounded at 33-22 — and the Wildcats should be able to close out effectively on UMBC's dribble-drive kick-out for 3-point attempts.
Meanwhile, Bruce Weber will likely employ excellent on-ball defender Barry Brown on Lyles, who poured in 28 against Virginia. Brown effectively checked National Player of the Year candidate Trae Young earlier in the season, and will bring that same tenacity to UMBC's breakout star.
In a Tournament that built its reputation on incredible upsets, UMBC surpassed them all. The only thing that would be more remarkable is if the Retrievers can turn their one night of historic magic into a Sweet 16 run.
UMBC benefits from seeing another opponent that plays a slower style. If the shots are falling as generously Sunday as they did Friday, the Retrievers are well-positioned to make history again. However, Kansas State's defensive intensity may prove too much for UMBC to handle.
The underdogs should put up a great fight and keep the game competitive, but getting out to a big lead in the early second half for a second straight contest — which would be vital to another upset — may be too much to ask.
Prediction: Kansas State 65, UMBC 56
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)