Ryan Arcidiacono (left) and Rollie Massimino pose for a picture at last week's Big 5 banquet. (Photo: Varun Kumar/CoBL)
Varun Kumar (@vrkumar8)
For 31 years, the 1985 Villanova team was the top dog on the Main Line. After all, there’s a reason it was inducted into the Big 5 Hall of Fame as the best team in program history.
Although given just an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament, those '85 Wildcats advanced all the way to the title game to face off against the defending champions and top-ranked team in the country, fellow Big East member Georgetown. They were considered to be heavy underdogs to the Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas.
In the championship, Villanova played what has been referred to as “The Perfect Game,” a 66-64 win that is considered one of the biggest upsets ever. The Wildcats shot an eye-popping 78.6 percent (22-28) from the floor, which remains a Final Four record, while also holding the Hoyas to ten points below their season average.
Though senior guard Dwayne McClain led all scorers with 17 points, it was senior forward Ed Pinckney who was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. Pinckney finished with 16 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while reserve guard Harold Jensen was a perfect 5-for-5 from the field for 14 points.
But things may have changed for the ‘85 team on April 4 in Houston. Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beating three-pointer gave the Wildcats their second national title, capping what Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated dubbed “the most dominating run by any title team in the past 15 seasons.”
If anyone expected even a hint of jealousy from the ’85 group, they were very off-base, according to Rollie Massimino, the head coach of that team.
“We’re way more proud,” he said at Monday’s Big 5 Banquet and Hall of Fame Induction. “Eight or nine guys [from the ’85 team] went to the game. I’m extremely proud and excited of Jay Wright’s accomplishments. He did a wonderful job. His players, his assistant coaches, the whole Villanova University did too.”
Massimino noted that both teams had several positive traits in common--especially taking pride in playing strong defense, strong foul shooting and sharing the ball.
The available stats and ratings back up some of the legendary coach’s claims. Villanova was rated the No. 21 defense in the country in 1985 according to Sports-Reference.com’s analytical Simple Rating System, an impressive figure considering the Wildcats played in a Big East that featured three Final Four teams.
Harold Pressley, another of Villanova’s stars in ‘85, remembered his entire junior season fondly, right down to another iconic moment in college basketball history. He can still picture McClain laying on the court, clutching the ball near the baseline as time expired.
To Pressley, the win over a great Georgetown squad resembled a typical Big East game.
“It was such a battle,” he said . “Each and every night was so difficult. We had to find a way to win those games and I still don't know how it happened on some of them -- overtime or at the buzzer. It was always gonna be one of those nights where you’re just like ‘Ok, what's gonna happen tonight and how do we pull this off?’ It didn't matter which team you were playing against.”
But for Pressley, this year’s title might have been just as special to him as his own.
“It was perfect for me, because for all these years, my kids have been hearing about our championship,” he said. “They never really got a sense of how it felt. So I brought my kids with me to Houston and they experienced the whole thing. They all said the same thing. This is the best experience we’ve ever had.”
After Pressley’s senior season at Villanova, the 6-foot-7 forward played nine years of professional basketball, with four of them coming in the NBA as a member of the Sacramento Kings in the late 80’s.
Despite spending several years far away from Lancaster Avenue, he never stopped following the program. He knew this team was a championship-caliber group from the beginning of the season.
“We’ve been waiting a long time and we’ve all been hoping and dying and praying that a Villanova team could win pretty soon,” he said. “This was just one of those groups of guys you knew just had it. It’s a thrill for us and we don't want to stop with just two national championships. We want to get one every five to seven years. We’re hoping this continues.”
The long-term future of the program is as bright as it's ever been and it's hard to see Villanova experiencing the lows it did in the subsequent years after winning the title.
It played in only eight NCAA Tournaments in nineteen seasons from 1985-86 through the 2003-04, advancing past the second round only once, and had five losing seasons in the same span. They also lost Massimino to UNLV in an ill-fated move in 1992.
Several early rankings for next year have the Wildcats among the Top 3 in the country, despite losing senior leaders and program greats Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu.
This prediction could change somewhat if guard-forward Josh Hart does decide to keep his name in the draft after the May 25 deadline. Hart’s senior leadership, vastly improved shooting and elite defensive ability are the keys to any potential repeat.
Villanova also adds two players that will likely have an instant impact- Fordham transfer Eric Paschall and Top 25 recruit Omari Spellman.
Paschall, the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year in 2015, is a terrific scorer from either the three or four position and has the athletic ability to be a perfect fit in the Wildcats switching-heavy defensive schemes.
On the other hand, Spellman is a high-upside player whose halfcourt game is almost exclusively around the basket. He also fits Villanova’s style well, having the prerequisite athleticism to run alongside the guards and get to the rim in transition.
With the high level of talent that will be on the roster next season, Massimino had no doubt in his mind that the program will stay at an elite level, something it frankly did not do for twenty years after winning their first title. He praised his protégé, Wright, for the culture he's created, citing that as a big factor in future sustained success.
“They’re so unselfish,” Massimino said. “They know they’re all part of a team--the Villanova community.”