MILWAUKEE -- The last time most people thought about UMBC basketball, the Retrievers were stealing America’s collective hearts. UMBC became the first 16-seed ever to knock off a 1-seed in 2018, and the Retrievers lived it up.
But Tuesday's 67-42 loss served as a wakeup call for UMBC, and a positive sign for Marquette. Here are five things we learned.
It's going to take time (perhaps a lot) for UMBC to recapture its magic. But it's been here before.
While the loss to Marquette was a wakeup call for UMBC, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise. The Retrievers lost Jairus Lyles, K.J. Maura, Jourdan Grant and others from the Cinderella squad that upset Virginia by 20. They are now ranked 244th on KenPom. Wisconsin native Joe Sherburne and Arkel Lamar were the only familiar faces in the starting lineup.
“We’re a young team right now from a playing time standpoint,” Odom said. “We had two guys out there in Sherburne and Lamar who have played a bunch of minutes for us. But all the other guys are pretty much new. And it showed tonight, more than we needed it to, quite honestly.”
The good news for UMBC: it’s been here before and gone on to do miraculous things. The Retrievers started last season 0-2 and 1-3. They lost by 11 points to SMU and 25 to Arizona (they also dropped a game to Colgate). UMBC would go 24-8 after the tough start, including the all-time memorable win against Virginia.
“We’re not ever trying to recreate that moment. We’ll always have it. We’re known for it, and we’re OK with that,” Odom said. “But the reality is life goes on. A new season happens, and we have new faces on this team. The expectations don’t change. Arizona beat us by close to 30 this time last year, and we had to respond to that. I don’t think this team will be different in terms of response."
The faces are different, but the UMBC vibe feels the same
The Retrievers may have struggled on offense, but the system is intact: a lot of spread pick-and-roll, big guys who can shoot and drive, guards who can penetrate, good spacing most of the time. Brandon Horvath, who played a small role last season, flashed in 25 minutes, showing the inside-out versatility Odom likes in his players.
The shots didn’t fall, and there were too many turnovers. But the system looked the same as it did against Virginia, only with far less experienced players operating within it.
And, of course, there was the UMBC Athletics Twitter feed, which maintains the same voice in self-deprecating defeat as it does in victory:
Wow look at all that gold people are wearing in the stands, it must be for us pic.twitter.com/mBcEWyAFLZ— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) November 7, 2018
There has been no scoring in this game for the last 6:06, PA announcer is doing some voice exercises to stay loose— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) November 7, 2018
To a little distraction for good measure:
Haters will say we don't deserve it pic.twitter.com/9t77lmCmXk— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) November 7, 2018
Marquette played incredible defense, and that's a scary thought for Big East opponents
Marquette has never been known for its defense under Steve Wojciechowski. In fact, it's what's held the Golden Eagles back the last two years. Marquette ranked 12th in offense and 182nd in defense last season. If it was merely average on the latter end, it would have snagged a high NCAA tournament seed.
It's one game, but Marquette's defense was awesome against UMBC. Center Theo John was key, grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking three shots. The Retrievers shot an abysmal 22.6 percent from the field.
The Golden Eagles were just better than their opponent, but the manner in which they suffocated them was significant: they switched early and often, and it really messed with UMBC's drive-and-kick scheme. Switching causes you to resort to mismatch basketball. When you don't have a lot of mismatches, there's just not much you can do when a team switches.
"We haven't won a ton of games in the past on the defensive end," Wojciechowski said. He believes the Marquette defense is "still in the beginning stages of an evolution," but if that unit can crack the top 100, the Golden Eagles will be much better than expected.
Marquette's best player is Markus Howard, and he only went 2-for-12 from 3-point range on Tuesday. But he grabbed eight rebounds and dished out seven assists.
"He's improving every day," John said of Howard. "We all know he can score, but he's an amazing passer and he can rebound for a guy his size, too."
We haven't seen all of those facets consistently in his first two seasons. If he can become a complete player, it's a great sign for the Golden Eagles.
Fiserv Forum is a great place to watch a college basketball game
Marquette’s new home arena didn’t disappoint. It’s state-of-the-art in every sense of the phrase, with a modern exterior look and a fresh on-court display.
Oh, and a massive jumbotron with all of the bells and whistles.
“It’s spectacular,” Odom said of the new arena. “They have a great crowd. It’s well lit. You feel like you’re playing on a stage a little bit, which I thought was pretty cool. Oh, and our guys loved the locker room. Big locker rooms here.”
Marquette still shares the arena with the Milwaukee Bucks, and when you walk up, there are Bucks logos and memorabilia at every turn.
But once you’re in the seating area, it feels like home for the Golden Eagles. There’s a DJ and an extravagant lineup introduction performance filled with fireworks. When we talk about college basketball environments, we usually talk about the classics. And that’s understandable. But as far as modern venues go, Fiserv Forum is up there."Seeing a full building in a game that traditionally is not full was something that the team and our staff really appreciated,” Marquette coach Wojciechowski said. Marquette has struggled with attendance in recent years, but perhaps the new arena is just the jolt the fanbase needed.
Sherburne is a Wisconsin cuisine extraordinaire
The game was a homecoming for Sherburne, who grew up in nearby Whitefish Bay. Sherburne is UMBC’s leading returning scorer and had eight points on Tuesday night.
“We allowed him to pick the restaurants. We had great food our who trip, all of them were wonderful,” Odom said. “You could just tell he was excited to be here.”
Sherburne had approximately 30 friends and family member in attendance, including these three.
Awww. Joe Sherburne’s niece is ready to root us on pic.twitter.com/End5zYoi64— UMBC Athletics (@UMBCAthletics) November 7, 2018