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College Basketball’s Gauntlet

After dominating the Eastern Eight Conference (now known as the Atlantic 10) during the 70s, Villanova’s burst onto the national basketball scene by joining the fledgling Big East basketball conference in 1980. Since that time, Nova fans have been treated to almost 30 years of hard-nosed, smack mouth basketball and one national championship in 1985, when three Big East teams reached the Final Four.

Playing in the Big East has been both a blessing and a curse for the Cats. Unlike #3 Memphis, the only ranked team in Conference USA, Nova faces some of the stiffest competition in the country day in and day out. As the regular season comes to a close, the Big East boasts three teams in the Top 10 and three more in the Top 25 (including the #11 Cats). The Conference’s unranked teams include the likes of Notre Dame (pre-season #9) and Georgetown (ranked as high as #9 mid-season after wins over Connecticut and Memphis). Big East teams account for 40 all time Final Four appearances and 10 National Championships, numbers only surpassed by the Big Ten and Pac-10 respectively. Of the Big East’s 16 teams, all except South Florida have reached the Final Four, more than any other conference.

Given the level of competition, it comes as little surprise that Nova has reached the Big East Tournament final round only five times in 29 years. The Cat’s only tournament championship came in 1995, when Kerry Kittles and Jayson Lawson combined for 54 points to lead Nova to a 94-78 win over Ray Allen’s Connecticut Huskies. Nova was runner up in 1981 (in a classic 83-80 triple overtime loss to Syracuse), 1982 (72-54 loss to Georgetown), 1988 (85-68 loss to Syracuse) and 1997 (70-58 loss to Boston College).

During the Jay Wright Era, the Cats have not advanced past the semifinal round.

  • 2002: #5 Cats beat #4 Syracuse and lost in the quarterfinals to #1 Connecticut
  • 2003: #4 Cats lost in the first round to #5 Georgetown
  • 2004: #11 Cats beat #5 Seton Hall and #3 Providence, losing in the semifinals to #2 Connecticut
  • 2005: #4 Cats beat #5 Pittsburgh and lost to #8 West Virginia in the semifinals
  • 2006: #2 Cats beat #10 Rutgers and lost to #6 Pittsburgh in the semifinals
  • 2007: #9 Cats beat #10 DePaul and lost to #1 Georgetown in the quarterfinals
  • 2008: #8 Cats beat #9 Syracuse and lost to #1 Georgetown in the quarterfinals

 By virtue of Villanova’s victory over Providence on Thursday, they earned a #4 seed and a double-bye. Will this be the year that a Jay Wright Nova team reaches the finals? If they do, they will need to get past some very, very good teams. Let us know what you think.

Ed ‘77 Guest Contributor