On Wednesday, Aug. 30, former Villanova Wildcats coach Rollie Massimino passed away, and his career was unlike any other.
Rollie Massimino was 82 at the time of his passing, which the university announced Wednesday afternoon. He’s been all over the basketball map and has amassed a total record of 816-462 at the college level. Massimino’s journey began as an assistant at Cranford high school in New Jersey, but, through it all, his time with Villanova was the most memorable.
Massimino got the job in 1973, and the team stumbled to a 7-19 record in his first season. They didn’t reach their first tournament until 1978, and then the Wildcats gathered unshakeable momentum. Starting in 1980, Villanova appeared in seven-straight NCAA Tournaments, and they peaked in 1985 after winning the title over heavily-favored Georgetown. Not only were the Wildcats underdogs, but their upset is also universally recognized as one of the biggest in North American sports history.
Also Read: Ben Simmons Wants To Be The NBA’s Best
Villanova was nothing stellar that year. Overall, they finished 25-10. In conference play, however, Big East opponents had their way, and the Wildcats slipped to 9-7, tied with Syracuse for third in the conference. The Big East was arguably the best division in college hoops that season, with Georgetown and St. John’s as the only two teams to be atop the AP Poll. The Hoyas were ranked first overall in the preseason poll and the final poll, and also spent 10 weeks in between at number one; St. John’s had the other five weeks.
Nova didn’t crack the top 25 until Jan. 8, where they appeared at 16th. They then spent the next five weeks at 18, 14, 18, 19 and 16.
Ed Pinckney and Dwayne McClain were the two guys responsible for Villanova’s success. Pinckney, a 6-9 forward who was the 10th overall pick in the 1985 draft, was far and away Massimino’s best player. The senior averaged 15.6 points and 8.9 rebounds while doubling as a wrecking ball on the defensive end, putting up 1.8 blocks and 1.5 steals a night. His sidekick, McClain, was an explosive, 6-6 slasher who was good for 14.8 points while shooting a staggering 57.4 percent overall.
The Wildcats entered March Madness as the eighth seed in the Southeast region, and the Dayton Flyers were their first opponent. It’s painfully obvious that games weren’t as entertaining offensively, and college hoops have certainly come along way. Additionally, the NCAA didn’t institute the three-point line until 1986, which helped raise scores over the years.
Nova skated by Dayton, 51-49, thanks to 31 combined points from Pinckney and McClain. It was a noteworthy performance by the Wildcats, who came away with the victory despite getting blasted on the backboards (30-20), and putting Dayton on the line 17 times.
The Michigan Wolverines, led by Big Ten Player of the Year Roy Tarpley, were Nova’s next challenge. Tarpley averaged 19.0 points, 10.4 boards and 2.2 blocks during his junior year while leading Michigan to a 16-2 record in conference play. Against the Wildcats, however, he came up rather short. Tarpley recorded just 14 points in the 59-55 loss. On the other side, McClain led the way with 20, followed by Pinckney who also tallied 14.
Villanova had their first big upset. The Wolverines were the first overall seed in the region, and that victory led the Wildcats to a meeting with the Len Bias-led Maryland Terrapins. Bias, the ACC’s Player of the Year, was shooting up draft boards and dominated in the Terrapins’ first two tournament games — 25 points against Miami (OH) and 20 against Navy.
The Wildcats put together an outstanding defensive effort and limited the future lottery pick to just eight points on 4-of-13 shooting. As usual, Pinckney and McClain carried most of the offense, accounting for 28 combined points in the 46-43 victory. At this point, it’s absurd that Villanova made it as far as they did. Their journey wasn’t yet over, but the momentum they were carrying was deadly.
Also Read: Prime Lamar Odom Would Dominate Today’s NBA
North Carolina was their next challenge, and it looked bleak after the first half. Down 22-17, the Wildcats poured in 39 points following the intermission, finishing with four guys in double-figures: Harold Pressley (15), Gary Mclain (11), Dwayne McClain (11) and Harold Jensen (10). The Heels got minimal production. Brad Daugherty was the leading scorer with 17 — in fact, he was the only guy to register more than six points. Frankly, it was a deflating effort.
Nova’s 56-44 win over UNC was their biggest of the tournament.
Villanova’s upset of Memphis in the Final Four was shocking, but bizarre things happen to the Cinderella team. The Tigers, who averaged just under 73 points a night, were held to just 45 on 38 percent shooting; Keith Lee, their leading scorer for the season, recorded just 10 points. A 52-45 victory sent Nova to the National Championship game, where they’d face off against Patrick Ewing and the Georgetown Hoyas.
Georgetown was the best team in college basketball and had the NCAA’s best player. Ewing averaged 14.6 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks while taking home every Player of the Year award that mattered — Sporting News, AP, NABC, etc.
The Wildcats needed to play a perfect game if they wanted to win, and they came incredibly close. First off, the execution on offense was sensational. Nova missed just six shots all game — six. They finished 22-of-28 from the field and 22-of-27 from the line. It was evident Nova wanted to play aggressively, and they did just that.
Georgetown got whistled for 22 team fouls by the end of the night, and that helped negate the 17 turnovers committed by Massimino’s team.
McClain and Pinckney out played David Wingate and Patrick Ewing, which was also critical to the upset. Ewing was limited to just 14 points; Wingate finished with 16. Nova also got key contributions from Jensen and Pressley, who scored 14 and 11, respectively.
With two seconds left, the Wildcats held a 66-64 lead. They were inbounding, and it was vital to get the ball in far away from their basket to prevent the Hoyas from getting a chance to tie the game. McClain, who landed on the All-Tournament team, caught the ball after falling and clutched it to his body as the buzzer sounded. Villanova had done it — they orchestrated the greatest upset in college basketball history. On top of that, Rollie Massimino had his signature coaching moment. And it’s one that’ll live on forever.
Start a conversation with me on Twitter