Hilltop Dawgs Look To Keep UMBC's NCAA Momentum Rolling

 

By: Patrick Ronan | @pk_ronan


Let’s be honest – four months ago, the letters “UMBC” probably didn’t mean much to those living outside of the greater Baltimore area.

Then… history.

With a 74-54 win over top-seeded Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County became the first 16-seed ever to knock off a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament. In a matter of hours, the Retrievers went from relatively unknown mid-major, to a household name that stole the hearts of college basketball fans all over the world.

  

CLICK HERE TO SUPPORT HILLTOP DAWGS 

The monumental win over Virginia put UMBC on the map, and they’re looking to keep the momentum rolling this summer in TBT2018 with UMBC alumni team Hilltop Dawgs.

”Coming off that NCAA run and having good players in the program, we thought it would be cool to put a team together and compete in The Tournament,” said Hilltop Dawgs GM/shooting guard Ray Barbosa.

Barbosa knows a thing or two about making tournament history. As a senior in 2008, his team-high 16.5 points per game led UMBC to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. He aims to fill a leadership roll on this summer’s team with the focus on one thing and one thing only – win a championship.

“I think we have a nice nucleus in place,” Barbosa said. “We’ve got some younger guys that can get up and down and some older guys that have experience and know how to play in crucial situations.”

One of those younger guys is point guard Jourdan Grant, one of two players for Hilltop Dawgs that were seniors on the UVA-beating team in the NCAA Tournament. Grant understands that it’s natural for people to label the Hilltop Dawgs as underdogs, but says that’s far from how the team views themselves.

”If people want to call us underdogs, that’s fine with me. I don’t necessarily think we are, but if they want to give us that label then we’ll take it and run with it,” Grant said. “Everyone saw what happened the last time people called us underdogs. It’s a good mentality to have. We’re always going to play with a chip on our shoulder regardless of how people view us.”

Even if the Hilltop Dawgs are viewed as underdogs, they certainly won’t come into TBT2018 flying under the radar. It’s hard for UMBC guys to go anywhere these days without getting mobbed by fans.

“The UMBC community has always been supportive, but the past few months have been crazy. So many people came down to Charlotte to watch us beat UVA, and then after we won, the love we got was unbelievable,” Grant said. “Everywhere we go people want pictures and autographs. We were just invited to the Baltimore Orioles game. It’s been crazy, but the great thing about our team is that we’re humble guys and that’s not going to change even with all the attention.”

The roster Barbosa has put together is deep and balanced. Rodney Elliot is a serious scoring threat at point guard, center Andrew Feeley is coming off a professional season in Uruguay and big-bodied wings like Chase Plummer and Wayne Sparrow should provide some mismatches on the perimeter. KJ Maura led the 2017-18 UMBC team in assists, Grant and Barbosa can both light it up from deep and guys like William Wise, Devarick Houston and Will Darley give the Dawgs added depth on the interior.

A big question mark for the Hilltop Dawgs is the status of Jairus Lyles – the Retrievers’ leading scorer from this year’s NCAA Tournament team who quickly became the hero of March Madness with his game-high 28 points in the win over Virginia. Lyles is listed a booster, but rumblings out of the UMBC camp hint at the possibility of him suiting up to play.

Teams in the South like Ram Nation, ATL All-Stars, Memphis State, Wake The Nation – and obviously, Overseas Elite – have caught Barbosa’s attention early.

“You’ve got four or five teams right there with tons of pro and college experience,” Barbosa said. “To get out of the South, you’ve got your work cut out for you.”

No 16-seed for UMBC this time around, as the Hilltop Dawgs earned a 9-seed in the South thanks to an at-large bid. They’ll open up against Monarch Nation (Old Dominion alumni) on July 14 in Richmond, looking to prove that their NCAA Tournament magic was no fluke.

”We showed people that UMBC was a great mid-major program to play for,” Grant said. “We’ve earned people’s respect which is great for the school and the basketball program. Now, when we take the court in TBT, people are going to see we represent UMBC and know they can’t take us lightly.”