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March Madness 2018 preview: UMBC Retrievers face Virginia in first-round

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UVa faces America East champions on Friday night

NCAA Basketball: MD Baltimore Cty at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

As a reward for being the top seed overall, the Virginia Cavaliers face the fourth-worst 16-seed. The three teams ranked below them are all headed to Dayton for the First Four. Thanks, NCAA Selection Committee!

We already took a look at how the Retreivers made it to the NCAAs. TL;DR: They won the America East Conference Tournament on this buzzer-beater three.

The UMBC Retrievers faced just three power conference teams, losing by an average of 19 points per game. They faced one NCAA tourney team, Arizona, and lost by 25. Overall they’re 24-10, but they beat only one team in the RPI Top 100, and that was Vermont in the conference tournament finals. They also lost, at home, to Stonybrook (ranked 224 on KenPom) and on a neutral floor to 264th ranked Army.

Let’s start with Virginia ties. UMBC head coach Ryan Odom is the son of former UVA assistant (and longtime NCAA head coach) Dave Odom. The elder Odom was an assistant under Terry Holland from 1982-1989. A less direct connection is UMBC leading scorer Jairus Lyles, who started his career at VCU. He was there in November 2013, when the Rams knocked off the Hoos at JPJ, though he did not play.

Lyles is one of the most ball-dominant players in the nation. He averages over 20 points per game and has taken roughly one-quarter of the team’s shots this season (almost one-third when he’s on the floor). In just three years, Lyles is third all-time in scoring for the Retreivers (and 18 points against Virginia would move him to second). Lyles is just 6’2” 175, but he’s super quick. He is at his best when using that speed to get past his man and into the lane. That, of course, is tough to do against the Pack Line.

It will be interesting to see who is tasked with guarding Lyles. Usually, Devon Hall gets the opposition’s best perimeter player. Hall’s length would certainly cause problems, but Lyles is probably quicker than Hall. Could Hall get away with playing a step off Lyles, making it tougher for that quickness to cause trouble? Hall’s length makes up that step, so hopefully, Lyles isn’t able to just pull up for open threes. Lyles is a 38% shooter from downtown and takes almost 40% of his shots from deep. Check out that game winner against Vermont. That’s a tough shot, but frankly, he was given far too much space considering the game situation. Virginia won’t make that mistake.

Lyles rarely comes off the floor. Neither does 5’8” PG Kevin “KJ” Maura. Maura is a JUCO guy originally from Puerto Rico; he is the Terrier’s second-leading scorer and their leader in assists. He’s a 44% shooter from deep, where nearly 60% of his attempts come from. He’s actually over 50% from inside the arc, rare for a guy so small. Maura is a pass first guy, so despite all those minutes, he’s just fourth in shot attempts.

For obvious reasons, Maura struggles to guard most opposing PGs, but he’s both quick on his feet and quick with his hands, averaging more than two steals per game (as does Lyles). They don’t press or really trap very much, but they rely on those two with quick hands and quick feet to get into passing lanes. That, really, is the extent of their defense. They don’t block shots, can’t defend the paint and can really struggle defending against screen action.

Odom rotates three wings. The starters are 6’6” Joe Sherburne and 6’5” Arkel Lamar. Both shoot more than half their shots from 3-point-land and make around 42%. Lamar is a more aggressive player who likes to bang inside as the team’s leading rebounder (Lyles isn’t far behind). Lamar is also a good defender. Sherburne is a better offensive player but isn’t a good defender. Off the bench is Jourdan Grant, who is smaller and will play some PG as well. He’s a 37% shooter from deep and not a whole lot better inside the arc. Another Virginia connection, ish? Sherburne went to the same high school as former Hoo Adrian Joseph.

UMBC usually has one big guy on the floor. The starter is Daniel Akin, a 6’9” 209 pound Englishman. He’s not much of an offensive player. He shot 65% from the field, but only attempted about two shots per game. He pretty much only shoots when it’s an open dunk/layup off a pass or an offensive rebound. Neither of those is going to be available much against Virginia. Two other big men get minutes—Nolan Gerrity and Max Curran. Gerrity is a 6’10” 235 lb junior who is essentially a bigger, less mobile version of Akin. Curran is more of a stretch big man who took half his shots from downtown, though he made under 20% of them. Fun fact, according to his bio, Curran claims to be an experienced Pokemon Go trainer. So there’s that.

The matchups in this game all favor the Hoos. Lyles is a very good player, but he’s not better than the guys Virginia faced night in and night out in the ACC. Nobody else is really capable of doing much damage against the Hoos. There isn’t much size, and that size isn’t skilled.

It will be interesting to see how Odom decides to play it. His team is giving up size everywhere on the court but does have some quickness advantages in the backcourt. Odom could decide to go small with 5 guards and force the Wahoo big men to guard the perimeter. Spreading out the defense would, potentially, give Lyles and Maura more lanes to drive. Can Isaiah Wilkins stay with one of the bigger wings on the perimeter? The equation is changed by the injury to DeAndre Hunter. Hunter allowed the Hoos to go small, while still having somebody who can defend inside. Hunter’s length and athleticism was a huge boost to those “small” lineups. Hall figures to be in that role, but he’s not as long or athletic as Hunter, so the lineup gets a boost. Not to mention Hall was already a part of those lineups, which means Nigel Johnson gets extra minutes with Ty Jerome moving off the ball more. (Thanks to Matt Ellis, you can read more about how the Hoos will manage without Hunter.)

If Odom goes small, the Hoos would completely dominate the paint. Mamadi Diakite, with his size and athleticism, would be a nightmare for UMBC’s wings to cover inside. He could score 20 points on 10 dunks. A factor here is UMBC’s lack of depth. While Odom has a number of options up front, the 5 guards named above are the only 5 guards on the team. If one of them got into foul trouble, they’d have to go with a more traditional lineup.

UMBC does one thing well. They can shoot the rock. If you’re only going to be good at one thing, that’s the one to be good at. Good shooting can keep you in games. But the Hoos are one of the best in the nation at defending the 3 point line. And the size of the Cavalier wings means open shots are going to be hard to come by for the Retreivers.

In January, UMBC lost to Albany by 44 points. There is little reason for Wahoo fans to be worried about a team that can lose by 44 points to anybody, much less to Albany. The injury to Hunter doesn’t change that.