There comes a time when every blog reaches a crossroad where it either fades into oblivion or emerges as an enduring and serious journalistic endeavor. Just four years after Mike published his first post on VUHoops.com, it is fair to say that our favorite blog has taken the road less traveled. How many college basketball blogs feature a writer with the journalistic skills and unfettered access to Villanova’s teams, coaches and administration to rival the top sports writers of the Philadelphia tabloids? How many can boast almost 3,000 followers on Twitter and over a million views of its site over the past twelve months? How many can say they were selected over The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Newsweek to write a critical review of the latest book written about Villanova basketball?
Mike was contacted by John Schaefer, author of the recently published book, The Villanova Miracle and 63 Other Dreams: A Game-by-Game Guide to the 1985 NCAA Tournament. After painstakingly considering the qualifications of each of the writers on his VUHoops editorial staff to undertake an assignment of such importance, Mike tapped me to write the review (he actually asked Brian first, but Brian refused the assignment citing a prior engagement rearranging his sock drawer).
The two seminal works covering Villanova’s magical run to the ’84-’85 NCAA Basketball Championship are Craig A Miller’s The Year of the ‘Cat, published in 1985, and Ed Pinckney’s Tales From the Villanova Hardwood, published in 2004. Mr. Schaefer’s book provides something that the others do not -- the context to fully appreciate the magnitude of what many consider the greatest Cinderella run in the history of college basketball.
With fading memories, most of us can recall only some of the six games Villanova played over a championship run that culminated with a 66-64 victory over heavily-favored Georgetown in Lexington Kentucky on April Fools Day 1985. I must admit that even I must regularly consult my commemorative 1985 National Championship beer stein to recall the final scores of the five unforgettable games leading up the greatest game in the history of Villanova basketball. However, Mr. Schaefer reminds us that the’84-’85 NCAA Basketball Championship was actually a collection of 64 stories, only one of which had a truly happy ending.
The book begins with summary of biggest stories of the 1984-85 season leading up to March Madness. Several conferences experimented that season with the shot clock and three point line, features that are fundamental to the college game today. The ’84-’85 season also had its share of controversy, including a point-shaving scandal involving John (Hot Rod) Williams and other Tulane’s players in exchange for cash and cocaine, and the expansion of the ’84-’85 NCAA tournament field from 53 to 64 teams, a decision that Sports Illustrated’s Curry Kirkpatrick said was "dumb" and "so watered down [the tournament] that even DePaul can get past the first round." Absent expansion of the field to 64 teams, Villanova may never have heard its name called on March 10, 1985 as the eight seed in the Southeast Region. Finally, Mr. Schaefer reminds us that the conventional wisdom heading into the 1985 version of Selection Sunday was that the NCAA tournament would only be a formality preceding the coronation of Georgetown as national champion.
Mr. Schaefer skillfully recaps each of the 63 games in the tournament, providing even the box scores. The recaps are shorter in the earlier rounds, and become more expansive and colorful in as the tournament progressed to the championship game. The book concludes with a feature on the tournament MVP, Villanova’s Ed Pinckney, a summary of the tournament’s statistical leaders, the '84-'85 regular season records of every Division I team grouped by conference, the tournament players selected in the 1985 NBA draft, the 1985 tournament bracket and the preseason and final AP Top 20 teams.
If you are looking for a book that narrowly tells the story of the ’84-’85 NCAA Basketball Championship from the perspective of the games Villanova played that season, read The Year of the ‘Cat or Tales From the Villanova Hardwood. However, if you want to really understand the depth of the blessed event otherwise known as Villanova’s only basketball national championship, The Villanova Miracle and 63 Other Dreams: A Game-by-Game Guide to the 1985 NCAA Tournament is a must-read. A true student of Villanova basketball should read all three.
Mr. Schaefer's book be purchased from Amazon.com in softcopy for $9.95 or for the bargain price of $0.99 for its Kindle edition, or from Barnes & Noble for $0.99 for its Nook eBook edition. We thank Mr. Schaefer for the opportunity to review his book and his kind offer to allow VUHoops to post excerpts in our Hall of Fame section.