Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Best of Villanova Basketball

Next up in my rundown of all-time Big Five teams: Villanova, which has produced more All-America-caliber talent than any other Philly team. La Salle has had more national Player of the Year candidates, but Nova’s depth of stars is remarkable. All-Americans like Hubie White and Randy Foye—plus NBAers Chris Ford, Alvin Williams, Tim Thomas, and Doug West—couldn't crack the top 10.

The first team:

1. Paul Arizin (1947-50)
Arizin, a 6-3 forward, was a consensus first-team All American who led the country in scoring in 1950 (25.3 ppg.) and directed the Wildcats’ national-best scoring offense (72.8 ppg.). He was also a local legend and was the school’s first 1,000-point scorer, finishing with 1,648. He went on to become a 10-time NBA All Star, Hall of Famer, and chosen as one of the NBA’s top 50 of all time.

2. Howard Porter (1968-71)
Porter was an overwhelming force as a 6-8 center, taking the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 1970 and the national title game in 1971 (a 68-62 loss to UCLA). A three-time AP All-American he finished with 2,026 points (22.8 ppg.) and a school-record 1,317 rebounds (14.8 rpg).

3. Kerry Kittles (1992-96)
Kittles, the school’s all-time leader in scoring (2,243 points) and steals (277), is the only Wildcat with more than 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists, and 200 steals. He was a first-team All-American guard in 1996 and a second-teamer in 1995.

4. Wali Jones (1961-64)
An All-American guard in ’64, Jones was twice the Big Five MVP and led the Wilcats to the 1962 Elite Eight. He finished with 1,428 career points and played in the NBA from 1964-73.

5. Larry Hennessy (1950-53)
A prolific scorer, Hennessy finished in the top 10 nationally in scoring twice (second in ’53 with 29.2 ppg.; seventh in ’51 with 22.0 ppg.). He totaled 1,737 points (23.2 ppg.) during a three-year career.

The second team:
Keith Herron (1974-78)
Bob Schafer (1951-55)
John Pinone (1980-84)
Ed Pinckney (1981-85)
Tom Ingelsby (1970-73)

The best team: 1984-85
One of just two Big Five teams to win the NCAA Tournament, Rollie Massimino’s ’85 Wildcats (25-10) had a roller-coaster season. They snuck into the tourney thanks to its expansion to 64 teams and barely eked out a 51-49 first-round win over host Dayton. But Pinckney, Dwayne McClain, Gary McLain, Harold Pressley, Harold Jensen, and Dwight Wilbur caught fire the rest of the tourney and stunned the nation with a 66-64 championship upset for the ages over defending champ Georgetown and Patrick Ewing.

This was one of Nova’s three Final Four appearances (1971, 1939); the Wildcats also reached the Elite Eight eight times (2006, 1988, ’83, ’82, ’78, ’70, ’62, and ’49).

Other top teams:
1970-71: Coach Jack Kraft’s 23-6 team reached the national championship behind an iron man lineup of Porter, Ford, Tom Ingelsby, Hank Siemiontkowski and Clarence Smith.

2005-06: Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, and Mike Nardi led the Wildcats’ guard-oriented 28-5 team (the most wins in school history). Jay Wright’s team earned Nova’s first No. 1 NCAA tourney seed and reached the Elite Eight, before losing to eventual champ Florida.

1963-64: Jones, Bill Melchionni, and rebounding machine Jim Washington led Kraft’s 24-4 team, which finished the year ranked seventh nationally. They lost to eventual runner-up Duke in the second round of the NCAA tourney.

1982-83: Massimino’s overlapping collection of Wildcat greats finished 24-8 and ranked 11th nationally: vets Pinone and Stewart Granger were joined by youngsters Pinckney, McClain, Pressley, and McLain.

1949-50: Arizin’s Wildcats went 25-4 in his senior year, with one of those losses a one-pointer to defending champ Kentucky. Tom Brennan, Leo Wolf, and Joe Hannan helped Nova finish second nationally in scoring margin (17.1) and ranked 11th in the country for coach Alex Severance.

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