To the Villanova Wildcats faithful-
As we count down the minutes to the battle against Pitt, scheduled for 7 PM or so tonight on CBS...
According to the Pitt sports information game notes, this is only the fifth occasion where two Big East schools have met in the NCAA tournament. The Selection Committee makes every effort to ensure that schools from the same conference do not meet until at least the Elite Eight, and preferably not at all. Accordingly, the top five seeds from the Big East were scattered to try to avoid this scenario; only Villanova and Pittsburgh were kept together...
It is a testament to their precautions that three of the four previous occasions were in the Final Four; in addition, this is the first time it has happened since 1987. It happened twice that year and twice in 1985, when three Big East teams - Villanova, St. John's, and Georgetown, all reached the Final Four.
In 1987, Syracuse defeated Providence - with Louisville's Rick Pitino as coach and Florida coach Billy Donovan in the backcourt -- in the Final Four. Providence had previously beaten Georgetown in the Elite Eight, by the surprisingly large margin of 88-73 (that game had Georgetown coach John Thompson II facing his alma mater.)
In 1985, Georgetown defeated St. John's in the semifinals, but then was so memorably upset by Villanova in the title game, 66-64.
So now that we've looked at previous meetings between Big East schools in the NCAA tournament-
let's take a look at the Villanova/Pittsburgh Rivalry History...
The Wildcats lead the all-time series, 31-27. As members of the Big East, Pitt leads in regular-season meetings, 21-20. But Villanova has won six of the eight Big East tournament games, so that puts it 27-22, Villlanova, in games as Big East members...
The Wildcats have won two of the last three meetings, including the final college basketball game at the old Spectrum, when the Wildcats upset the then-#3 Panthers, 67-57, on Wednesday, January 28... However, the first meeting between the schools was nearly a half-century ago, long before the creation of the Big East...
February 11, 1960 - The Wildcats crushed the visiting Panthers, 76-49, at the Fieldhouse (now Jake Nevin).
January 25, 1961 - The following season, in the return visit to Pitt, the Panthers won a narrow 57-55 victory. The series then lay dormant for 16 years, which is surprising, given the geographical proximity.
The series resumed when both teams were in the Eastern Eight. The schools faced other seven times while they were in that conference, with Villanova capturing four of the seven meetings. Pitt was off the schedule for three seasons, from 1980-1982; in the interlude, the Big East formed, and Villanova joined it for the second season of play, in 1982-83.
January 12, 1983 - The teams meet for the first time as Big East members, and Rollie Massimino's Wildcats win easily, 66-48, @ Pitt.
March 8, 1984 - In their first clash in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, Villanova triumphs, 75-65.
January 29, 1985 - The Panthers make their first visit to the Palestra to specifically face Villanova (as opposed Penn or other Big Five members). The Wildcats win 70-63...
March 2, 1985 - In one of the most famous losses - in hindsight - of Villanova history, the Wildcats fall in the regular-season finale @ Pittsburgh, 85-62. Why it was so memorable:
1985 marked the first year of the 64-team field in the NCAA tournament. Since it would be the first tournament with such a large field, nobody was entirely sure exactly what it would take to get into the field. (24 years later, as many schools and writers can attest to, it's still very murky.) Villanova was ending the regular season with a 23-point loss, and it was speculated that the dreadful game @ Pittsburgh down the stretch might give the Selection Committee a reason to omit the Wildcats from the expanded field...
March 7, 1985 - Five days later, in a rematch in the Big East tournament, Villanova wins 69-61...
In retrospect, the Wildcats were given a #8 seed, meaning that they were never endangered by the regular-season loss; it's possible that the subsequent win over Pitt might have helped offset it, but nobody was certain of that at the time...
January 16, 1986 - In their final visit to the Palestra, the Panthers fall 74-70.
February 4, 1987 - In their first visit to the brand-new Pavilion, Pitt escapes with a 58-57 victory.
March 12, 1988 - En route to the Elite Eight, the Wildcats avenge being swept in the regular season by Pitt, winning 72-69 in the Big East tournament.
February 19, 1994 - At Fitzgerald Field House, Villanova triumphs in double overtime, 93-88...
March 4, 1998 - In the opening round of the Big East tournament, the highlight of the rebuilding season - Villanova's only non-postseason team since 1993 - comes when Howard Brown hits a three-pointer in transition, at the buzzer of double overtime, to boost the Wildcats into the quarterfinals, 96-93.
January 19, 1999 - In the "jewel heist game", Pitt must play with a depleted squad after Panther players are alleged to have been involved with the theft of jewelry from the Radnor Hotel, where the team was staying for their visit to the Pavilion. Villanova cruises to a 86-65 victory.
That was the state of the rivalry, as the 20th century ended. Pittsburgh rebuilt successfully under Ben Howland, now the coach at UCLA. As it turned out, Pittsburgh was in the other Big East division for its renaissance, and Villanova was fortunate in often missing them on the schedule.
During the Jay Wright era, he has faced Pittsburgh ten times, going 4-6:
Groundhog Day, 2002 - @ Pitt - 71-59 loss.
March 9, 2003 - This game was legendary for taking place after the phone-code access scandal decimated Villanova, at the end of a highly disappointing season, the year the freshman quartet of Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Curtis Sumpter and Jason Fraser arrived on the Main Line. With a skeleton team of six players at the (one-third-full) Wachovia Center for the regular season finale, Wright's gallant Wildcats nearly stunned a top-10 Pitt squad, in what would have been among the greatest upsets in Big East history had it taken place. Wright employed the stallball tactics learned from his mentor Rollie Massimino, but Pitt ultimately prevailed, 56-54.
March 6, 2004 - @ Pitt - 59-45 loss.
February 20, 2005 - Wright finally beats the Panthers, 80-72.
March 10, 2005 - In the rematch in the Big East tournament, 'Nova wins again, 67-58.
March 10, 2006 - One year later, to the day, Pitt tops 'Nova, 68-54, in the BE tournament semifinals. The teams did not meet in the regular season. That game was the occasion when Allan Ray suffered a grievous eye injury early in the second half.
You can also take a look at the other Villanova blogs included in Various Viewpoints on the right sidebar, for their takes...
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