Almost three decades have passed since the greatest season in Villanova basketball history, but current coach Jay Wright continues to guide the program with the same principles used back then.
The No. 12 Wildcats open the 30th anniversary season of their only national title Friday night against Lehigh at Allentown, Pa.
Wright was an assistant at Rochester in 1985 when Rollie Massimino’s eighth-seeded Wildcats became the lowest seed to win a national championship. Wright joined Massimino’s staff at Villanova in 1987 and followed the beloved coach to UNLV in 1992.
He absorbed plenty of knowledge from the feisty Massimino, especially how basketball and life can mesh to form a successful environment.
“I learned how to run a basketball program and include your family,” said Wright, who in 2009 guided Villanova to its first Final Four since the title run. “We do everything basically the exact same way. We run our program just like (Massimino) did. He’s bigger than life.”
Massimino, who turned 80 on Thursday, and members of the ’85 team celebrated their championship Nov. 4 – the same day Massimino-coached Northwood University lost 93-50 to Villanova in an exhibition game.
Every Wildcats team since has seemingly played in the shadow of the ’85 squad, with some, like this installment, having loftier expectations than others.
“Because the (1985) players are around all the time and because Coach Mass is here all the time, it still resonates with them,” Wright said.
These Wildcats could perhaps draw even more inspiration from the ’85 team while poised to successfully move on from a season that prematurely ended with a 77-65 third-round NCAA tournament loss to eventual champion Connecticut.
With four starters back from the 29-5 team that won the school’s first outright league title since 1982 in the first season of the new-look Big East, Villanova is the only conference member among the preseason Top 25.
“We don’t really focus on that,” guard Ryan Arcidiacono told the Big East’s official website. “Preseason rankings don’t really mean that much to us. We kind of expected it, but there will be a lot of expectations and pressure. But hopefully we’ll be ready for it.
The Wildcats expect to again be strong defensively after ranking first in the league by allowing averages of 66.5 points and 40.5 percent shooting.
Offensively, Villanova’s 78.0 scoring average was second to Creighton (78.7), which no longer has All-American Doug McDermott in the mix.
Seniors Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston each averaged a little more than 14.0 points, while Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu shared the team lead by pulling down 6.1 rebounds per contest. Arcidiacono averaged 9.9 points and a team-high 3.5 assists.
However, the Wildcats were upset 64-63 by eighth-seeded Seton Hall in their Big East tournament opener and had their season end two games later as a No. 2 NCAA seed.
“I thought it was a great year for our team for the most part,” Ochefu told the school’s official website. “We made strides throughout the year. We didn’t finish with a win but it was definitely a good season.”
With games against Maryland-Eastern Shore and Bucknell to follow the opener, Villanova likely won’t get its first real test until Nov. 24 against No. 15 VCU at the Legends Classic.
Lehigh also returns four starters from 2013-14, when it finished 14-18.
Reigning Patriot League rookie of the year Tim Kempton averaged 13.0 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds. Guard Corey Schaefer scored 8.3 per contest while starting every game as a junior.
“Hopefully experience gained, greater maturity, greater focus and greater consistency can result in even more effective results on the court,” coach Brett Reed told Lehigh’s official website.
This is the schools’ first meeting since Villanova’s 84-47 victory Nov. 27, 2005.