StLou's Previews: UMBC Retrievers

University of Maryland - Baltimore County Retrievers

Virginia kicks off its 2018 NCAA Tournament appearance against the America East conference champs, 16 seed UMBC. On paper, a 1-16 matchup shouldn't be too stressful, but will the Retrievers have the formula to make it interesting?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Friday, March 16th, 9:20 PM Eastern
Location: Spectrum Center, Charlotte, NC

What 'They' Say

Vegas: Virginia -21, O/U 121.5, equates to ~71-50 UVA win
TAPE: Ranks UMBC #217, predicts a 79-52 UVA win, 99% confidence
KenPom: Ranks UMBC #190, predicts a 69-49 UVA win, 97% confidence


Depth Chart:


PG #11 K.J. Maura, 5-8 140, SR
34.9 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 5.2 apg, 42% 3P%
SG #10 Jairus Lyles, 6-2 175, SR 
34.6 mpg, 20.2 ppg, 3.5 apg, 39% 3P% 
SF #33 Arkel Lamar, 6-5 210, SO 
27.1 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 40% FG% 
PF #13 Joe Sherburne, 6-6 215, JR 
29 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 47% FG% 
C #30 Daniel Akin, 6-8 205, FR 
16.7 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 66% FG% 

Key Reserves


#5 Jourdan Grant, 6-2 190, SR
23.9 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 37% 3P%
PF #23 Max Curran, 6-9 190, SO 
12 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 44% FG% 
C  #35 Nolan Gerrity, 6-10 235, JR 
12.9 mpg, 3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 49% FG% 


The ABC's of UMBC:

A) Don't underestimate their back court. The Retrievers got here by rolling out one of the best small-conference back courts you're going to find. Starting at the point is the diminutive but tenacious K.J Maura, who won his conference's Defensive Player of the Year award (to go with an All-AE 3rd team selection) by grabbing 2.3 steals a game in AE play. On offense, he was the team's 2nd highest scorer at 11.8 points per game in AE play, shooting 42% on his 3s, and averaging a stellar 4.8 assists (against only 1.7 TOs) a night. Next to Maura is All-AE 1st teamer Jairus Lyles (son of UVA football alum Lester Lyles), a mid-major talent who started his career under Shaka Smart at VCU, and who sent UMBC to the NCAAs by knocking down a stone cold three to vanquish league-favorite Vermont. Lyles is a prolific scoring guard, 19.9 points a game in league play, shooting 50% at the rim and 34% from deep, while chipping in over 3 assists a game. Backing the two of them up is steady veteran Jourdan Grant, a 40% 3-point shooter and tough defender in his 20 minutes a night off the bench. All three are seniors, and won't be fazed by the environment.

B) This is a potent four-out offense. Remember that UNC-W guard-dominant team that spread us out last year and attacked relentlessly? Yeah, it's like that. I've already mentioned their two starting guards, but they also roll out two very capable perimeter-oriented forwards at the 3 and 4 spots. Sophomore small Forward Arkel Lamar is a 42% three point shooter, taking over half his attempts from behind the arc, though he was inefficient when going into traffic (30% shooting on 2's). Next to him, junior undersized wing-4 Joe Sherburne scored over 11 points a game in AE play on 41% from deep, taking around 60% of his shots from behind the arc. At the center of the offense is a member of the AE's All-Freshman team, Daniel Akin, who's rail thin and purely post-oriented, so Salt should be able to spend the game safely defending him and his backup, the lightly used junior Nolan Gerrity. I do believe that 4-spot, however, will be critical to how effectively UMBC can hang around this one, as Sherburne is exactly the type of small ball 4 that seems to be the Pack Line's kryptonite, especially as we don't have Hunter available to neutralize him, instead having to rely on Mamadi and Wilkins to defend in space.

C) They pride themselves on their tenacious defense. The Retrievers claim the AE's 2nd best defense for this year, and it's primarily built off of ball pressure. They led their league in generating turnovers (14.5 a game) and live ball steals (8.2 a game). All 4 of their starting perimeter players are threats to swipe, and lest you think this is some risky, all-or-nothing gambling, think again, as they almost always recover effectively, holding opponents to low shooting percentages both from deep (33%, 4th in the AE) and from 2 (49%, 3rd in the AE). Oh, did I mention they rarely foul? We'll have a size advantage at just about every position, however, a much bigger team than they're used to seeing from such a small conference, so if they can't get turnovers, it remains to be seen how effectively they'll be able to slow the Hoos the old-fashioned way.

Their season to date:

UMBC is 24-10 on the season, went 12-4 in the America East conference, and went 3-0 in their conference tournament to earn their NCAAT berth. Their best wins are over KenPom's #73 Vermont and #95 Northern Kentucky. They have bad losses to KenPom #210 Colgate, #265 Army, and #225 Stony Brook. They played 3 OOC games against power conference opponents, losing 78-67 at SMU, 103-78 at Arizona, and 66-45 at Maryland.

Keys to getting the win:

1) Under no circumstances allow them to warm up from 3. If UMBC is going to hang around this game, it's going to be on the backs of their potent long-ball game, particularly from their forwards who can run Wilkins off a screen or reverse a hard hedge with a pick-and-pop. UMBC took over 40% of their shots from behind the 3-point line this year, the second highest rate in their league (46th nationally) making 38% as a team (43rd nationally) so they're comfortable bombing away from the outset. We simply cannot sag too much on them, or hedge without good rotations, lest they get hot and confident early and hang around into the 2nd half.

2) Protect the ball. Other than maybe hot 3-point shooting, nothing keeps a lower-seeded underdog in the game more so than the higher seed beating themselves with sloppy play. This goes double when that underdog has ball pressure as a major tool in its defensive toolkit. Now, we typically excel at ball protection, of course, 5th lowest nationally in coughing up TOs, but the emphasis still needs to be made, especially for our big men who may be receiving the ball in a flurry of traffic. Make smart choices in making passes, aggressively come towards the ball, soft hands, all that coaching cliche BS. Don't give up more than 8 or 9 TOs, only a few live ball (maybe I'll make an allowance for garbage time, but only a small one, because we don't want to have to bring the starters back in) and it should allow the offense to find a rhythm while not giving UMBC any extra confidence.

3) Use the size advantage to get good looks at the rim. Look, I'm all for finding a good 3-point rhythm on Friday to generate confidence shooting it Sunday, but let's not get cute when we don't have to, not when the game needs putting away. The Hoos will have a size advantage at every position on the floor; even Kyle Guy is going to get to tower over someone (Maura) for once. Once the wings catch the ball out of a screen, feel the defense and either curl downhill immediately or find the screening big for a dunk. Force the Retrievers to defend the paint, make their limited bigs protect the rim, and force them to pack the paint so much that our shooters are wide open off the kick-out after UMBC is sufficiently softened up.

Bonus) Finish this one in the first 20 minutes. 1-16 games aren't supposed to be competitive, yet sometimes they are. Four years ago we struggled to put Coastal Carolina away, dragging that one out well into the 2nd half. The need to get this one wrapped quickly is even more important now that the Hoos are adapting to a thinner roster. Our primary rotation needs to be rested for the short turnaround before Sunday's game (remember, K-State/Creighton play before us Friday, so their winner actually gets 2+ more hours of rest than we do, though in theory they play a more taxing game in the process), and the ability to cap starters at around 25 minutes would be a boon, especially having the 2nd team in for the last 5 minutes or so to merely protect a safe lead.



Updated on March 15, 2018 by Seattle Hoo

This game against the Retrievers probably won't produce any late game drama (it damn well better not), but it could give us some insights into what to expect in the rest of the tournament on one critical question:

What will Tony Bennett do against smaller, perimeter-oriented lineups?

With De'Andre Hunter, he generally would go "small" with Hunter at the four and Isaiah Wilkins at the five.  He generally did the same last year with Devon Hall at the four.  Bennett's use of the small lineup began the year before with Malcolm Brogdon, but in that season it was something he went to in desperation when a wing four was killing us. Last season it became a common response to lack of offense or small opponents.  This season it has also become a proactive lineup.

Sharon Cox-Ponder for HOOS Place

UMBC is the type of small, spread opponent against which we would expect to see a lot of the four-guard lineup with Dre.  How Bennett chooses to line up against them will show us where he is thinking on that issue.  If he chooses to use a small lineup, expect to see senior Nigel Johnson replace Jack Salt, with senior Wilkins and senior Hall playing the post positions. With UMBC largely relying on a 6-8 center and 6-6, 6-5 forwards - none of whom is a power player - Wilkins and Hall will have the power and size advantage. Defensively they should still easily control the boards and be able to protect the rim. On offense, working Wilkins in the post could be one way to combat UMBC's perimeter pressure. Wilkins can back the 6-8, 205-pound freshman Daniel Akin down and shoot that jump hook over him all day. The Retrievers tend to swarm the ball, and with Wilkins being an excellent passer, that could result in open threes for our perimeter guys - especially with the extra pass or two.

If Bennett does want to go small against these kinds of lineups, that means a lot of minutes for Johnson. The challenge for this game will be handling UMBC's pesky little point guard who is listed at 5-8, 140, but who is in no way taller than Chris Lykes.  Put Maura at 5-6 and closer to 130.  He is small - real small - but he was their conference DPOY because he pressures the ball and chases it. We very likely will have others bring the ball up, but will need to watch for Maura chasing it, because he tends to play the ball the way a Retriever does. Defensively, Johnson will have the tough task of staying between Maura and the basket.

If Bennett does not feel comfortable with using the four-guard lineup for extended stretches, expect him to tighten the pack and basically concede the perimeter threes in favor of not allowing the drive-and-kick variety, which are a higher percentage shot. On offense, using the pass rather than the dribble will be the order of the day. Our regular lineup is so much bigger than them at every position that we can pass over the top.  If they swarm the ball as aggressively as they did in their conference tournament final, we will have open players all over the court and swift ball movement will result in wide open shots all game long. Wilkins' main worry on offense will be not getting called for charges on his post ups from small, weak defenders falling backwards when his butt touches them.  That's why I like the tactic of flashing into post position, then receiving the pass and going straight up with the shot rather than posting up and backing in. In addition, the face up dribble drive will be vulnerable to getting picked from behind by additional defenders diving down.  We therefore want our post men catching the ball already in scoring position and keeping the ball high.

My gut says Bennett will go small, because that has been his consistent M.O. even when it doesn't best suit his personnel. That means a lot of minutes for Nigel, who will be very important.  This is a good game to get him worked into the flow and see if the team can iron out some of the communication and coordination issues with him. I'd also like to see him be more assertive in the Sides set of getting the ball up top and running the point, calling for ball screens, and using the freedom in that set to play more of his game.



The Retrievers are a good small conference school with good guards. And good guard play matters a lot in March. Confidence and belief matters a lot too. That last one is going to be an X-Factor this weekend with the Hunter news, as not only does it challenge the Hoos confidence in their rotation and their ceiling, but it also may serve to embolden opponents, who feel this may be the foot in the door they need to hang around. 

With that said, 1-16 games are really only interesting for the spread. While I worry about Virginia's ability to overcome the Hunter injury in later rounds, I feel okay that it will only serve to galvanize them on Friday. And from a metrics perspective, KenPom #190 UMBC is right there with the likes of Monmouth (#181) and Austin Peay (#189), both of whom we handled comfortably with our established starters before the bench ever hit the floor to put it away. 

Virginia comes out playing clean, aggressive offense and focused, stifling defense, then it rides its primary rotation to a 20-point margin early in the 2nd before the bench gets ample time to close it out.

Hoos Win - 68-48

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