For the third time in five seasons, Virginia has earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament but this year feels a bit different.
The Cavaliers, who ended as college basketball's unanimous No. 1 team in the final AP Poll this week after starting the season unranked, have been the most consistent and best team in the country almost all season.
A 71-63 victory over North Carolina last weekend in Brooklyn, N.Y., earned Virginia its third ACC Tournament title in school history and second in five years, and now sends the Cavaliers to Charlotte, N.C., this weekend to kick off the final stretch of the season.
Virginia (31-2) will face No. 16 seed Maryland-Baltimore County on Friday night in the tournament's South Region with the winner moving on to face the winner of the 8/9 matchup between Creighton and Kansas State.
"We have a lot more to prove," Virginia guard Kyle Guy said.
Guy was named the ACC Tournament MVP after his three-game performance last week and will look to carry that momentum over into a tournament that some say the Cavaliers have underachieved in over the past few years.
But the Cavaliers will be without freshman forward De'Andre Hunter, the ACC's Sixth Man of the Year, because of a broken left wrist suffered during the ACC Tournament. Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 rebounds in 33 games for the Cavaliers.
UMBC (24-10) is coming off an America East title where it knocked off No. 1 seed Vermont 65-62 on Saturday and recorded 20 or more wins this season for only the fourth time in school history.
This will be the first matchup between the teams in more than 12 years as they last met in December 2005, a Virginia win. Despite the hiatus, the connections between the two teams are noticeable.
UMBC coach Ryan Odom is in his second season with the Retrievers and is the son of former Virginia assistant coach Dave Odom. While his dad was on the staff at Virginia, Odom spent the majority of his childhood in Charlottesville.
"He comes from a great coaching family," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said of Odom.
The Retrievers are led by senior guard Jairus Lyles, who is averaging 20.2 points this season.
Lyles knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer to lift the Retrievers to their America East title over Vermont and will need even more heroics against a stingy Virginia defense.
The Cavaliers have allowed only one opponent to shoot 50 percent against them this season and have gone 34 straight games without allowing 70 points while allowing the fewest points in the country this season (53.4 per game).
"Everybody is capable in this tournament," Bennett said. "That's just how it is."
A No. 16-seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and with the Cavaliers opening as a 22.5-point favorite against the Retrievers, they seem to also be one of the favorites to cut down the nets in San Antonio -- a notion that was not as common in past seasons.
"Don't over-complicate it," Bennett said of the now "survive and advance" format of the postseason. "Improve, prepare well, play to win. That's what we have to do when we step up. And whoever it is or wherever it is, I don't know if we have a choice on that or not."