SACRAMENTO, Calif. — On the eve of the five-year anniversary of UMBC’s historic upset of Virginia, becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed in the men’s NCAA basketball tournament, former UMBC coach Ryan Odom is back in the Big Dance.
In his second year as the head coach at Utah State, Odom returns in an underdog role — 10th-seeded Utah State plays 7-seed Missouri — but he knows it’s nothing like the circumstances in 2018.
“Will a 16 ever beat a 1 again? I have no idea,” Odom said. “It takes a special group. It takes a lot of luck in order to have a chance to win any game in the NCAA tournament.”
And, in some cases, just to reach the tournament. That’s why, Odom said, that as special as the 74-54 win against Virginia was, it was the team’s win against Vermont in the conference tournament final to reach the NCAA tournament that was “even more special.”
“A moment that I’ll remember forever with that group of people that I was fortunate enough to be able to coach with and coach in terms of the players,” Odom said.
After beating New Mexico last week in the Mountain West tournament, Odom got to bed after midnight and woke to a storm of text messages starting at 5 a.m. It was a group text started by a former UMBC assistant coach to remind everyone that it was the five-year anniversary of the moment UMBC punched its ticket to the tournament.
“Literally I couldn’t go back to sleep,” Odom said. “This time of year, it’s really all year to be honest, when you’re a coach in college basketball, it’s hard to sleep. I started looking at my phone. I literally was in tears not from an emotional standpoint, just laughing.
“… It was so fun because it reminded me of why we do this and why we coach. It’s to have those interactions, to have those special memories.”
At Utah State, the expectations are different. The Aggies are playing in their 23rd NCAA tournament — the most of any team in the Mountain West — and are doing so as an at-large team for the fourth time.
Two former UMBC players now play for Utah State, including Dan Akin, who started for the Terriers against Virginia. Two others, Steven Ashworth and Max Shulga, played for Utah State in the tournament against Texas Tech in 2021.