Here is Part 2 of Villanova Big East Tournament History... and here is the link to Part 1...
Part 2 - 1985-87
The Latin phrase mirabile annu – "the year of miracles" – is the only phrase that suits this season. In the year Villanova would capture its national championship, the Wildcats had humble beginnings. They finished 9-7 in the conference (their weakest record in their five years of membership), and shared third place, receiving a #4 seed.
This might not seem so bad. However, in the regular season finale @ Pittsburgh, the Panthers had drubbed the Wildcats, 85-62. A 23-point loss, in which the opponent scored 85 points, in the era before the shot clock and the three-point line, no less... gave very little evidence that the team on the losing end would suddenly win the first-ever 64-team tournament over the course of the next month, defeating a higher-seeded team in five of the six games (and in the sixth game, having to play on the #9 Dayton's home floor in the first round...)
But at the time, the immediate problem was that the Wildcats would now have to face the Panthers again a few days later, on a neutral floor, as Pitt had qualified for the #5 seed.
Facing Pittsburgh for the second straight Big East tournament, Villanova avenged the season finale loss, 69-61, in the quarterfinals. They then lost for the third time to St. John's – to the Chris Mullin-led squad - in the semifinals.
Although Villanova – in a foreshadowing of things to come on April Fool’s Day – had twice played both Georgetown and St. John’s very, very tough in both regular-season games, the Wildcats had lost all four times. But with just a two-point loss at the old Spectrum to St. John’s, and a five-point loss on the road, there was at least room for reasonable optimism about the third try against the Johnnies. However, the pattern of losses continued – except that in the Big East tournament, it wasn’t as close as the regular-season pair. Lou Carnesecca’s squad won easily, 89-74. One of the great counterfactual questions is:
“Had Villanova had to play St. John’s in any of their two Final Four clashes – instead of the only non-Big East participant, Memphis State (at the time, now it’s just Memphis), and, of course, Georgetown – would the Wildcats have been able to do it?"I don’t think so – I would say that it was highly unlikely that they would have won in a fourth try…
It was a year of momentous changes across the college basketball world, as the NCAA introduced two of the most significant rules changes in the history of the sport: the three-point shot and the 45-second shot clock, for the first time. And in addition to brandishing the national championship trophy, the Pavilion opened its doors. Amidst all of these changes, the Wildcats continued to excel. Villanova actually improved its conference record, despite the loss of Ed Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, and Gary McLain, to 10-6, although it was only good enough for fourth place this time. This set up a meeting with #5 Providence for the first time since the overtime battle in Syracuse in ‘Nova’s first tournament five years earlier, the Wildcats’ first Big East tournament. The Wildcats got past Providence, 75-63, in the quarterfinals, before falling to St. John’s for the second straight season, 75-64.
This was a rebuilding season in many ways. In Villanova’s seventh year of Big East membership, it finished with a sub-.500 record for the first time, at 6-10, and received the #6 seed, its lowest seed ever. Facing #3 Syracuse, the Orangemen won 72-66, ‘Nova’s first-ever quarterfinal exit. It can be understood, given that the Syracuse went all the way to the national title game before losing to Indiana on Keith Smart’s jumper (a play immortalized by its frequent inclusion of Brent Musburger’s call, in the various CBS opening montages, over the subsequent two-plus decades). The Wildcats had just a 15-15 record after the game with Syracuse, and thus barely qualified for a NIT bid; it was the first time Villanova had not reached the NCAA tournament in eight seasons. The season ended with a loss to Big Five rival La Salle (led by the legendary Lionel Simmons, of 3000+ point fame) at the Pavilion, in the first round of the NIT.
Additional chapters for subsequent tournaments will come later, as will a preview of Villanova's quarterfinal game against either #5 Marquette, #12 Georgetown, or #13 St. John's, so check back...
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