This week, Daily Campus Sports remembers the nostalgic highs of the old BIG EAST Conference, while also asking ‘where did it all go wrong?’ This is Big East Week.
Date: April 1, 1985; NCAA Tournament Championship Game
Location: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
Participants: The Villanova Wildcats, coached by Rollie Massimino, and the Georgetown Hoyas, coached by John Thompson
The Outcome: Villanova 66, Georgetown 64
Two opponents from the Big East only met in the NCAA title game once, but when they did, they delivered one of the most unlikely upsets in March Madness history, and an instant classic.
Villanova shot 78.6 percent from the field, the highest field goal percentage in Final Four history, to bring down heavily-favored Georgetown, 66-64, in the 1985 season capper in Kentucky.
With the win, Massimino’s Wildcats became the lowest-seeded team (No. 8 seed, Southeast region) to win the NCAA tournament, a mark that stands today. Only three other No. 8 seeds have reached the title game: 1980 UCLA, 2011 Butler and 2014 Kentucky, the latter two of whom both lost to UConn.
Georgetown was the mighty favorite, the Goliath, that day; the Hoyas began the season as the No. 1 team in the AP poll and defending national champions, with All-American center Patrick Ewing dominating the conference in the paint. They only had a few struggles during the regular season, won the Big East Tournament and held the No. 1 AP ranking heading into the tournament.
Villanova had a veteran starting lineup, including three seniors and two juniors, and started the season hot, but a mid-season slump knocked them out of the AP poll in February. A huge win over Pittsburgh secured an NCAA berth, albeit one that also inevitably promised a showdown with No. 1 seed Michigan in the first weekend.
Both teams made it out of their regions, with varying levels of ease: Georgetown’s smallest margin of victory before the title game was six points, while Villanova grinded out close win after close win, including a five-point halftime comeback over North Carolina in the Elite Eight.
In front of 23,124 fans inside Rupp Arena, Villanova played a patient and deliberate game, including the use of the four corners offense, because there was no shot clock instituted at the time (the rule was to come into effect next season). During one possession at the close of the first half, the Wildcats held the ball for nearly two consecutive minutes as Georgetown stuck defiantly to its 1-3-1 zone.
The second half was even slower; Villanova took just 10 field goal attempts, and incredibly, made nine of them. Their strategy was to slow down the game and protect the ball, and although the second part of the plan wasn’t entirely successful (the Wildcats turned the ball over 17 times), timely shooting was more than enough to overcome bouts of sloppiness.
Gradually, and with a presumable burst of halftime energy courtesy of the fiery Massimino after a missed call at the first-half buzzer, Villanova built a five-point lead with six minutes left. Then Georgetown made their move, scoring six straight before the game’s turning point.
A bad pass from the Hoyas’ Bill Martin that bounced off Horace Broadnax’s shin gave ‘Nova the ball back, and after a 62-second possession, Harold Jensen gave the Wildcats the lead for good with an open jumper.
Until about two years ago, neither program had quite reached these lofty heights again; Georgetown and Villanova didn’t return to the Final Four until 2007 and 2009, respectively.
However, the Wildcats are now suddenly a national power after titles in 2016 and 2018 under head coach Jay Wright, raising the clout of the new Big East.