Georgetown's modern Goliaths wary of Villanova's giant-killers. Mighty Hoyas seek repeat title as unranked Wildcats bid for one last upset in tonight's NCAA championship game
Lexington, Ky. — History, most astute basketball observers agree, will accord the Georgetown University team a place among the greatest college units of all time. No less an expert than St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca made just that point after his Redmen had been pulverized here, 77-59, in the semifinals of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
``We've played them four times and lost three, which makes me a pretty good judge,'' he said. ``I would have to compare them to the great teams of San Francisco with Bill Russell, the great Kentucky teams of the past, the UCLA clubs and, of course, the undefeated Indiana team.
``When a club executes as well as they do and plays at such a level of proficiency, there is really nothing you can do.''
John Thompson, the imposingly large Georgetown coach, doesn't really agree and has no intention of drinking in ``Louie's love song.''
``I don't expect to walk out on the floor and pick up the trophy,'' Thompson said in anticipation of tonight's final against surprising Villanova University at Rupp Arena (9:12 p.m. EST on CBS-TV). The Wildcats, an amazing group of giant killers all through the tournament, advanced to the season's grand finale via yet another upset -- a 52-45 victory over Memphis State's towering Tigers.
Villanova is a decided, yet dangerous underdog. Anyone who believes the Wildcats don't stand a chance has a short memory for tournament history. For it was only two years ago that a seemingly overmatched North Carolina State team won the title by beating powerful Houston with a last second basket.
``Absolutely anything can happen, anything,'' Carnesecca emphasizes.
This is Georgetown's third appearance in the championship game in the four years of the ``Patrick Ewing era.'' And now with the dominating 7-foot center leading the way in his collegiate swan song, the defending champion Hoyas are determined to become the first team since UCLA in 1972-73 to win back-to-back titles.
In a best-of-seven series, of course, such a result would be utterly predictable. But in a one-shot, winner-take-all shootout like this one, the Wildcats certainly have the capability to make off with the biggest prize in the college game.
That, of course, would be a real irony considering that Villanova entered the Final Four with more losses (10) than the other three teams combined. Georgetown, St. John's, and Memphis State, the Nos. 1, 3, and 5 teams in the nation, were 96-8 on arriving in Lexington, while unranked Villanova stood at 23-10.
Some might wonder if the Wildcats even deserved to be in the tournament. ``I think we belong here,'' says forward Ed Pinckney. ``The strength of schedule throughout the year has shown that.''
What Pinckney was driving at was that Villanova keeps some pretty mean company playing in the Big East Conference -- a point that has certainly been brought home in this tournament. The presence of three Big East teams in the Final Four marked the first time any one conference has so monopolized the last stages of the NCAA champion- ships. Clearly, finishing tied for third in that league is nothing to be ashamed of -- nor is losing five games to conference foes Georgetown and St. John's.
For Villanova, then, being invited to play in the tournament was like joining the Navy. It provided a welcome opportunity to see some of the rest of the college basketball world.
The experience proved rewarding, as the 'Cats beat Dayton (at Dayton), No. 2 Michigan, Maryland, and North Carolina in capturing the Southeast Regional.
``They're what I call the `hot' team in the country right now,'' says Memphis State Coach Dana Kirk. ``You always hear about the teams that are playing well at the end of the year, and they're playing super well.''
In no way, Kirk adds, should the Wildcats be viewed as Cinderella at the ball. ``Not with their tradition of strong teams,'' he says, respectful of the school's frequent appearances in NCAA post-season action. Villanova has been in the tournament 17 times, including the last six, but its best result was a championship game loss to UCLA in 1971.
Primarily responsible for perpetuating the school's proud basketball tradition are Coach Rollie Massimino and a trio of starting players - Pinckney, point guard Gary McLain, and forward Dwayne McClain. The three met at a summer basketball camp before their freshmen year, and have been fast friends and articulate team spokesmen ever since.
Against Memphis State, Villanova used its quickness and confusing assortment of defenses to keep the Tigers off-balance. MSU, it should be added, ran into major foul trouble, and was hindered by the disqualification of star big man Keith Lee.
Georgetown is not likely to get itself in a similar bind, not with the deepest bench in the country. And the Hoyas, of course, play the great team defense that is a staple of every superior club.
A measure of how they can shut down an offense came in Saturday's St. John's game. Using a tenacious box-and-one defense, Georgetown held Chris Mullin, the Redmen's All-American, to eight points, breaking his string of 101 consecutive double-figure outings.
The demanding, towel-wielding Thompson won't say if his team is playing well or not, but most everybody else is awed by the Hoyas' recent effort. To some degree, they appear to be competing against their own potential -- chewing up and spitting out even quality opponents.
Interesting, however, is that the closest any team has come to Georgetown in the last two months is seven points -- and that team was Villanova. Furthermore, in their first meeting, the Hoyas were forced to overtime before finally recording a 52-50 victory.
The boys from Philly may be grasping at more than straws, therefore. They actually feel the brass ring is within reach.