The 1985 NCAA Tournament was notable for a number of reasons. It was the first time that men’s basketball field had been expanded to include 64 teams. It was also the last title game to be played without a shot clock.
And it was also a jolting, Joe Frazier-esque left hook to the jaw that was delivered to the basketball establishment by a trio of teams from the new bully on the block: the mighty Big East Conference.
When the Villanova Wildcats defeated the Georgetown Hoyas in the championship game, they converted 79% of their shots overall, including and an unfathomable 90% in the second half.
In other words, their offensive execution was about as flawless as Toni Braxton in that white satin dress she wore to the Grammy Awards in 2001.
The eighth-seeded Wildcats, with their 66-64 victory, became, and remain, the lowest-seeded team to ever sit atop the March Madness mountaintop.
The defending champion Hoyas, with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams, seemed indestructible, winning 34 out of their 36 previous games. Their only losses during the season were to Big East rivals St. John’s and Syracuse. And those were by the slimmest of margins, a combined three points. They were appearing in the Final Four for the third time in Ewing’s brilliant college career.
“Georgetown is as good a team as has ever been assembled,” Villanova’s head man Rollie Massimino told The Sporting News the night before the Final Four. “And that’s only because of Patrick. He’s the best to ever play college basketball.”
Massimino passed away in 2017.
Villanova had suffered ten defeats during the season and appeared to be the decided underdog in the semi-finals. Many people didn’t think they’d advance past Memphis State, who were then members of the Metro Conference, to get a crack at the Georgetown – St John’s winner.
But Massimino armed the Wildcats with an impeccable plan of attack.
To people who hadn’t watched the Big East on a consistent basis, it seemed the Hoyas would crush Villanova. But to people who paid attention, they knew that the Hoyas struggled in beating the Wildcats during their two previous matchups earlier in the year.
In the championship game, the Wildcats hit 13 out of their first 18 shots under extreme defensive duress. Logical wisdom suggested that it would be impossible for them to maintain that pace. But sometimes, logic gets tossed aside. Villanova didn’t simply maintain that blistering pace, they actually bettered it.
The game’s final 20 minutes witnessed as flawless an offensive display as any seen in the history of the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats missed only one shot from the field.
Ed Pinckney finished with 16 points and six boards en route to his Most Outstanding Player trophy, Dwayne McClain dropped 17, Harold Jensen hit one pressure-filled jumper after another and point guard Gary McLain ran a near-perfect floor game.
For that one night, over those 40 minutes of basketball, the Villanova Wildcats were as great as any team that ever laced ‘em up. Their performance was, and still is, one of the best displays of offense, teamwork, grit, and determination ever witnessed.
Even the great Georgetown coach, John Thompson, had his team stand and applaud when Villanova took the victory stand, telling The Sporting News, “Any time you shoot that percentage, you deserve the praise. You couldn’t get much better.”
And it’s doubtful that any team, ever again, will play much better than that.