A History of Villanova Basketball – 30 years ago – 1985 – 1986
Much has happened in the past ten years. Villanova would lose its independent status and join in the ECAC, then join the Eastern Eight and finally, settle in the Big East. A new cable station would change the sports world forever – ESPN – which would broadcast college basketball games (especially the Big East Conference) across America and most importantly, Villanova would go to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament for the 3rd time in its history but this time would climb to the mountain top and be crowned the Champions. The Cats would move into a new on-campus arena doubling the size of its Fieldhouse in 1986. A new rule change for the ’85-’86 season would bring in a 45 second shot clock, one year before the introduction of the 3 point shot.
With the NCAA Tournament starting to expand (it would go from 32 teams in ’76 to 48 teams in 1980), it was placing less emphasis on Independents and more on conference champions. Thus, Villanova joined the Eastern Eight in 1978. The original teams were: Pitt, Duquesne, West Virginia, Villanova, Rutgers, George Washington, Penn State and Massachusetts. Penn State would leave after one year and go independent as Joe Paterno wanted to create an eastern football conference. To counter that, Dave Gavitt, the former coach and now the A.D. at Providence College, set out to create a powerful basketball conference with teams from all the major cities in the East and market it as the conference of the future, the “northern ACC” and with ESPN broadcasting its games across the nation, recruits took notice.
The Big East started up with the ’79-’80 season and its original members were: Boston College, Providence, UConn, Syracuse, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Georgetown. Villanova would bring the Philly TV market a year later and Pitt would join in ’82-’83. The Big East had instant credibility in its first season with 3 teams ranked in the Top 20. By its 3rd year it would send a team all the way to the NCAA Championship game (Georgetown – led by Patrick Ewing); win it all in ’84 and totally dominate the Final Four in ‘85 with 3 Big East teams – St. John’s, Villanova and Georgetown, with the Big East (Villanova) being crowned the champions.
The NCAA Tournament expanded from 32 teams in 1976 to 48 in 1980. More expansion followed in ’83 to 52 teams; 53 teams in ’84 (some teams had 1st round byes) and then in 1985 a field of 64. The Cats were the lowest-seeded team (8), the 2nd biggest point-spread upset (Georgetown was favored by 10) in Championship Game history , played almost “the perfect game” and scored one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history. And Coach Massimino would never be the same again.
The Cats would start the 1985-86 season without 3 starters from the Championship team: Eddie Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Gary McLain. However, it would have its head coach back after being courted by the New Jersey Nets of the NBA. Assisting Coach Mass were: Marty Marbach (2nd year), John Olive (1st year – replacing Mitch Buonaguro, who left to coach Fairfield), Steve Lappas as a 2nd year part-time assistant, Harry Booth (5th year as a volunteer assistant) and from the Championship Team, Brian Harrington, as a grad assistant.
To replace the 3 graduated championship starters, the Cats had to work into the rotation a Top Ten recruiting class consisting of 3 Top 50 players: 6-6 Doug West G/F/PA, 5-9 Kenny Wilson PG/NJ and 6-5 Gary Massey G/F/NY.
The 1985-86 Team
6-7 Harold Pressley SR/PF/CT – 37 games – 16.8ppg/10.1rpg
6-4 Harold Jenson JR/SG/CT – 37 games – 11.8ppg/2.4rpg
6-6 Doug West FR/G/F/PA – 37 games – 10.2ppg/3.7rpg
5-9 Kenny Wilson FR/PG/NJ – 37 games – 8.1ppg/1.6rpg
6-7 Mark Plansky SO/F/MA – 36 games – 7.5ppg/5.1rpg
6-2 Dwight Wilbur SR/SG/NJ – 35 games – 7.1ppg/1.8rpg
6-11 Wyatt Maker R-JR/C/CA – 31 games – 2.8ppg/1.7rpg
6-5 Gary Massey FR/G/F/NY – 36 games – 2.7ppg/1.8rpg
7-1 Chuck Everson SR/C/NY – 30 games – 1.7ppg/1.7rpg
6-7 Connally Brown JR/PF/TX – 27 games – 1.1ppg/1.3rpg
5-10 R.C. Massimino SR/PG/PA – 25 games – 0.9ppg/0.2rpg
6-4 Steve Pinone JR walk-on/F/CT – 16 games – 0.6ppg/0.3rpg
5-11 Pat Enright JR walk-on/PG/CT – 10 games 0.5ppg/0.3rpg
6-1 Veltra Dawson SO/G/IL – 8 games – 3.6ppg/0.4rpg
The Cats were not ranked in the preseason Top 20 team polls and would finish at 23-14 and were one of four Big East teams to make it to the NCAA Tournament that year. The four of the nine Big East teams to go were: St. John’s (1 seed), Syracuse (2), Georgetown (4) and Villanova (10). All four would win their 1st round game (Villanova defeated 7 seed Virginia Tech, 71-62) and all four would lose in the 2nd round (#8 Auburn 81 #1 St. John’s 65; #7Navy [David Robinson] 97 #2 Syracuse 85, #5Michigan St. 80 #4 Georgetown 68 and #2 Georgia Tech 66 #10 Villanova 61). The Final Four Champion in ’86 was Louisville with Coach Denny Crum for their 2nd title with a 72-69 win over Duke (Coach K). The other two teams were Kansas and LSU. MVP of the Tournament was Pervis Ellison from Louisville.
The Big East sent two teams to the 32 team NIT in ’86: Pitt (which went 0-1 losing to SW Missouri) and Providence (which went 2-1, beating BU and George Mason before losing 64-63 to Louisiana Tech).
The Big East Standings in 1985-86
St. Johns – coach Lou Carnesecca – 14-2/31-5 (star players – Walter Berry, Willie Glass, Mark Jackson)
Syracuse – coach Jim Boeheim – 14-2/26-6 (“Pearl” Washington, Rafael Addison, Rony Seikally)
Georgetown – coach John Thompson – 11-5/24-8 (Reggie Williams, David Wingate, Horace Broadnax)
Villanova – coach Rollie Massimino – 10-6/23 -14 (Harold Pressley, Harold Jensen, Mark Plansky)
Providence – coach Rick Pitino – 7-9/17-14 (Billy Donovan, Delray Brooks)
Pitt – coach Roy Chipman – 6-10/15-14 (Charles Smith – remember him, VU fans?, Demetreus Gore)
B.C. – coach Gary Williams – 4-12/13-15 (Roger McCready, Dominic Pressley)
UConn – coach Dom Perno – 3-13/12-16 (Earl Kelley, Cliff Robinson)
Seton Hall – coach P.J. Carlesimo 3-13/14-13 ( Andre McCloud, Mark Bryant, James Major)
All Big East 1st Team
Walter Berry – St. John’s
Mark Jackson – St. John’s
Harold Pressley – Villanova
Rony Seikaly – Syracuse
Dwayne “Pearl” Washington – Syracuse
Reggie Williams – Georgetown
Big 5 Standings in 1986
St. Joseph’s – coach Jim Boyle – 3-1/26-6 (Maurice Martin, Rodney Blake, James “Bruser” Flint)
Temple – coach John Chaney – 3-1/25-6 ( Nate Blackwell, Howard Evans, Tim Perry, Ed Coe)
Villanova – coach Rollie Massimino - 2-2/23-14 (Harold Pressley, Harold Jensen, Mark Plansky)
LaSalle – coach “Lefty” Ervin – 1-3/14-14 (Larry Koretz, Chip Greenberg, Tim Legler)
Penn – coach Tom Schneider – 1-3/15-11 (Perry Bromwell, Chris Elzey, Bruce Lefkowitz)
In the “Holy War”, St. Joe’s would beat Villanova, 63-61.
All Big Five 1st Team: Harold Pressley (MVP), Rodney Blake and Maurice Martin (St. Joe’s), Chip Greenberg (LaSalle) and Tim Perry (Temple).
All Big Five 2nd Team: Nate Blackwell and Ed Coe (Temple), Perry Bromwell (Penn), Harold Jensen (Villanova) and Wayne Washington (St. Joe’s).
The Big Five Hall of Fame Inductees that year were: Michael Brooks and Tom Gola (LaSalle), Kurt Engelbert (Penn) and Rory Sparrow (Villanova).
The Cats played 4 games in the Fieldhouse (now “The Jake”), 3 games at the Spectrum (Temple, Syracuse, Georgetown), 5 games at the Palestra and 6 games at their new on-campus Arena. The Arena would open on February 1st with Lefty Driesell’s Top 20 Maryland team with All-American Len Bias and the Cats would win 64-62 (loudest I ever heard the Pavilion). The following year the Arena would get its first name – the DuPont Pavilion. The Cats played in the Great Alaska Shootout for Thanksgiving and go 2-1 (beating Texas San Antonio and Alaska-Anchorage and losing to UNLV) and for Christmas play in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii going 1-2 (losing to Missouri and Bradley and beating Hawaii). Villanova’s recruiting class that spring would sign: 6-9 Barry Bekkedem (PA/Canada), 7-2 Tom Greis (NY), 6-6 Rodney Taylor (SC) and 6-3 Eric Leslie (NY).
Preseason Top 20 Teams in 1985-86 were: (1) Georgia Tech, (2) UNC, (3) Michigan, (4) Syracuse, (5) Kansas, (6) Duke, (7) Illinois, (8) Georgetown, (9) Louisville, (10) Auburn, (11) Kentucky, (12) Notre Dame, (13) Oklahoma, (14) LSU, (15) Memphis, (16) UAB, (17) North Carolina State, (18) UNLV, (19) Navy, (20) Maryland.
The 1985-1986 All-American 1st Team was: Walter Berry (St. John’s & Player of the Year), Johnny Dawkins (Duke), Kenny Walker (Kentucky), Len Bias (Maryland) and Steve Alford (Indiana).
The 2nd All-American Team was: Brad Daugherty (UNC), Danny Manning (Kansas), David “The Admiral” Robinson (Navy), Dell Curry (Virginia Tech & father of Stephon), Ron Harper (Miami of Ohio), Scott Skiles (Michigan State).
And finally, John Feinstein would write his classic novel Season On The Brink depicting the ’85-’86 season of Bob Knight and his Indiana Hoosiers.