DETROIT -- In the moments after Villanova earned its trip to the Final Four, as players celebrated, and the floor swayed and gyrated, coach Jay Wright had someone in mind: Rollie Massimino.
Wright searched for a moment and then located Massimino across the court. Wright ran towards him, evading a media table simply by leaping over it. He found Massimino and hugged the man who Wright credits with helping to make him the coach he is.
Wright invited Massimino to join in the euphoric chaos and cutting down of the nets. Massimino declined. This was Wright's moment and Massimino didn't want to overshadow it.
So Wright went to celebrate and Massimino was asked a question by me: can the Wildcats really win a national title?
"No one gave my team a shot," Massimino said, "and look what happened."
What happened then, in 1985, was the improbable, the ridiculous, the historic.
The comparisons between this Villanova team, which plays North Carolina on Saturday, are both obvious and in some ways not so much. Both things are actually true. What Massimino did with his Wildcats was far more impressive. The Wildcats then were an eight seed and double-digit underdogs to Georgetown. Villanova beat the Hoyas in what might be one of the top 10 upsets in sports history. Not NCAA basketball history, but sports history.
The 2009 Wildcats are a high seed and seen as a team that is extremely talented and deep. They won't sneak up on Carolina the way Villanova circa 1985 did on Georgetown.
And the respective coaches are also different. Massimino coached with weapons-grade bed head and frantic frumpiness. Wright is spit polished and sparkling right down to the pocket handkerchief and chronic Armani-ness.
But this is where the differences end. Few believe these Wildcats can beat Carolina, the way no one thought Villanova could beat Georgetown. Once again Villanova is a surprise Final Four entrant and an underdog.
|Scottie Reynolds must step up his game against UNC. (US Presswire)|
Wright and Massimino actually got to know each other years ago when Wright worked Massimino's camp.
"I was there like a hanger on," Wright said. "I was part of the family. The thing with Rollie was if you worked his camp you might as well have been the top assistant, everybody was in the family. And my wife was a cheerleader there, she had just graduated."
"And it's -- that was kind of the greatest year in the Big East history, and we've had discussions whether that year was better than this year, it's a whole another topic. But that was similar. Villanova was a great team, but St. John's and Syracuse and Georgetown were the teams that year. Villanova kind of sneaks in. And then it's all happening the same. I'm not a superstitious person or anything, I don't care. I'm worried about the next game. But if history repeats itself, I'll take it."
Villanova has a solid chance at beating Carolina because of the physicality of the Wildcats as well as their guard play. Ty Lawson is better than Scottie Reynolds but Reynolds will still cause the Tar Heels significant headaches. The Wildcats also have just the right amount of muscle to rattle North Carolina's teeth.
In 1985, the Wildcats held one of the greatest college centers of all time, Patrick Ewing, to just 14 points. The Wildcats made 22 of their 28 shots missing just one basket in the second half. It was as close to a perfect game the sport has ever seen.
Can this Villanova team repeat that performance? Not possible, right?
They can't possibly win, right?
When have we heard that before?