UMBC (Who?) Could Threaten Spread vs. Heavily Favored Virginia

Doug Upstone

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 6:45 PM UTC

Wednesday, Mar. 14, 2018 6:45 PM UTC

Friday's action in Charlotte wraps up with No. 1 Virginia taking on 16-seed Maryland-Baltimore County (9:20 p.m. ET; TNT). This is an unlikely pairing in many ways.

Virginia vs. Maryland-Baltimore CountyFree NCAAB Pick: Virginia -21Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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It is no shocker that Virginia is the top seed in the South Region. However, UMBC had lost 23 in a row to American East regular-season champion Vermont and had to play on the Catamounts' home court Saturday. But the Retrievers hung around, took several body blows from Vermont and was the more poised team in the last five minutes, winning 65-62 as 10.5-point road underdogs.

Their prize: a trip to Charlotte to face the country's top-ranked team.

The college basketball odds are stacked against UMBC, a 21-point underdog as the region's 16th seed. Nonetheless, the Retrievers have nothing to lose, can play loose and maybe can cover for those having the courage to take them with their NCAAB picks.

Virginia Has Everything But Now Is Minus One

Now more than ever, preseason polls in college basketball are worthless. Virginia (31-2, 20-10 ATS) was not even ranked to start the year and all they did was dominate the ACC. Nobody plays the Pack-Line defense like the Cavaliers, in part because nobody teaches it like Tony Bennett. Virginia plays defense like an orchestra, with every player on the floor having a job to do wherever the ball is. When you finish No. 1 in scoring defense (53.4 PPG) and No. 3 in field-goal percentage allowed (37.5), you are doing something right.

Why this Cavaliers team has a good chance to win the title is because the offense has more scoring versatility. Guards Devon Hall (11.9 PPG), Ty Jerome (10.6 PPG) and Kyle Guy (13.9 PPG) can all score and feed the bigs for dunks. The one negative that could emerge later is losing ACC Sixth Man of the Year, De'Andre Hunter (9.1 PPG), in the ACC tourney to a broken wrist.

All UMBC Can Do Is Its Best

With Virginia not always a great starting team, UMBC (24-10, 4-1 ATS) might have some juice as a double-digit first-half wager. Also, it's not like UMBC has not played a top-quality team all season, but it has been a while. On Nov. 12 they faced Arizona and lost 103-78, but did cover the 25.5-point spread.

UMBC scores 73.9 PPG, and while they are not expected to get close to that point level, keep an eye on leading scorer Jairus Lyles, who pops in 19.9 PPG.

UMBC will get a first-hand look at Virginia's patient offense that has no problem milking the shot clock. As long as the Retrievers' guards can avoid running into too many picks, they might be able to showcase their quickness, generate steals and keep the game closer than expected.

It Is All About What Virginia Wants

I call these "want to" games for favorites. If Virginia wants to set an early tone on offense and defense, they will have a 15-point lead at halftime, coast to a victory and cover the spread. If the Cavs are not motivated and go through the motions for the first 20 minutes, and lead by six or less at the half, the 16-seed could beat the number.

I'll go with something in the middle. Virginia leads by nine at halftime, giving up too many threes. After Bennett adjusts his team's defense and attitude, the Cavaliers will shut down UMBC, win by 23 and barely cover.

Check out SBR’s college basketball odds page for updated lines. Also, head over to the March Madness Betting Headquarters for vital handicapping information, picks, and a list of the best sports books and live betting options for the tournament season.

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