The date was March 30, 1985. I was a young radio reporter for United Press International, covering my first Final Four, which was taking place at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky.
I had just watched Georgetown dismantle St. Johns 77-59 to advance to the National Championship game. It was their fourth meeting of that season. St. Johns had actually won on Georgetown’s home court, the Capital Centre, back in January. But Georgetown had easily won the next three, including the famous sweater game where Hoyas coach John Thompson opened his jacket just before tipoff to reveal a replica of the ugly sweater that St. Johns coach Lou Carnesecca had been wearing for luck much of the season. Georgetown, ranked number two at the time, beat top-ranked St. Johns 85-69. Their Big East Tournament rematch had a similar result – 92-80.
Carnesecca, 60-years-old on that March 1985 night, knew what he had just seen as he met with the media. “Louie”, as he was called by just about everybody, was asked to compare that Georgetown team to some of the others he’d seen in his 20-year head coaching career. Without question he said, the Hoyas were as good as what he described as, “The Indiana team with the five pros.” The message – this team is going to win it all.
Even then, it has been nine years since the team of Scott May, Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner, Tom Abernathy and Bobby Wilkerson had led Indiana to the last perfect season, 32-0 in 1976. But Carnesecca was ready to place that Georgetown team right alongside what has been considered the greatest team in college basketball history.
And why not? Georgetown had five pros of their own in Billy Martin, David Wingate, Reggie Williams, Michael Jackson, and of course, Patrick Ewing, one of the greatest players of all time. Yes, Georgetown had lost two games, including one to Carnesecca’s team, but old Louie knew greatness when he saw it. In fact, his team was pretty darn good with four future pros in Mark Jackson, Walter Berry, Bill Wennington and Chris Mullin, who’d been the Big East player of the year. But by Final Four time, they were no match for a team that was poised to win its second-straight National Championship.
Except they didn’t.
The title game in 1985 was supposed to be a laugher. Georgetown had already beaten Villanova twice during the regular season and most expected the Wildcats run as an 8th seed would come to an end. I remember reading Rudy Martzke’s media column in USA Today the morning of the championship game. He had talked to CBS announcers Brent Musburger and Billy Packer. Both said that plenty of fill material had been prepared in case the game got out of hand. After all, it would probably take a perfect game for Villanova to beat Georgetown.
And that’s what happened. Villanova pitched a perfect game. Without a shot clock, the Wildcats were able to control the game. They took only 28 shots and made 22 for an incredible percentage of 78. Villanova won 66-64 for what many regard as the greatest upset in the history of the NCAA Tournament. Anything can happen and the night of April 1, 1985, it did.
Thirty years later, we turn our attention to another team chasing history. Two wins by Kentucky this weekend in Indianapolis will make the Wildcats 40-0 and the first team to go undefeated in 39 years. They’re favored to beat Wisconsin and if they get to the final, they’d be favored to beat either Duke or Michigan State.
We’ve learned from Georgetown that you can’t count on it until it happens, but don’t you think it’s about time? As Scott May told the Washington Post, “We kind of feel records are made to be broken. I mean Jesus, we’ve held the record for 39 years.”
Besides a few cupcakes riding on my office pool, I’m rooting for Kentucky to take their place alongside the 76 Indiana team. But as Louie Carnesecca, who’s now 90 can tell you, don’t count on it until it happens.