NOTE: This is story from our fellow Knight of Columbus brother Dennis Corcoran:
I decided to switch gears for this month’s column and share with you the Villanova Men’s Basketball Team winning the NCAA Tournament on April 4, 2016. One reason for this is that I not only went to Villanova, but I was the manager of the Men’s Team from 1959 through 1963. So naturally I was overjoyed when the Wildcats of Villanova defeated the Tar Heels of North Carolina 77-74 on a three point goal by Kris Jenkins at the end of the game in Houston, Texas. This was the first time that Villanova’s coach, Jay Wright, had defeated the Tar Heels in the NCAA Tournament after losing to them three previous times in the tournament.
The tournament began with Villanova being seeded number two in the Southern Regional. They had an outstanding season being ranked Number One in the country for the first time in the history of Villanova’s Basketball Program for about two weeks in February. They went on to win the Big East conference for the second year in a row, but lost in the Big East Tournament to Seton Hall by two points. If they had won, they would have been a Number One seed. They won their first three games easily,and then played Number One Seed, Kansas in the Elite Eight. Kansas was picked by 25% of the 13 million people who filled out “March Madness” brackets on ESPN.com to win it all. Only 2.6% had picked Villanova. One of those who picked Villanova to win it all was Vice President , Joe Biden, who was present in Houston with his wife Jill for the Final Four. Biden’s wife has a master’s degree from Villanova. President Obama had gone with Kansas to win it all. Personally, in my bracket I had picked Kansas over Villanova too because the Wildcats had lost in the early rounds in the tournament over the last several years. Their victory over Kansas got the Wildcats to the Final Four for the first time since 2009. I was so impressed by their victory I felt that they were the best Men’s Team at Villanova ever, including the 1985 team, an eighth seed that upset number one seed, Georgetown with Patrick Ewing, as the Wildcats shot 78.6% from the field.
Villanova defeated Oklahoma in the semi-final game in Houston 95 to 51, the largest margin of victory in the 78 year history of the Final Four. Oklahoma had beaten them by 23 points in Hawaii. After that loss, Wright put much more emphasis on playing defense, which included during the course of each game a switching man to man and a 12 2 and 23 zones. They held Buddy Hield, the Naismith Award winner as the outstanding college player, to nine points.
Villanova was up by 10 points over Carolina with less than five minutes to play when the Tar Heels came back, including a three point shot by their guard, Marcus Paige that tied the game at 74 with four seconds left to play. Jenkins said after the game that he thought Paige’s goal was a tougher shot than his. Jenkins then hit his shot that was also a first time that the final game was decided by a three point goal. It should be noted that the six foot six inch Jenkins, a junior was at one time 280 pounds and worked very hard the last two years to bring his weight down to 240 pounds. Also, his half brother was a member of the North Carolina team.
Villanova’s Men’s Team began to get good during my last two years there. The NCAA Tournament was much smaller then it is now. During my junior year we made it to the Elite Eight before losing to Wake Forest. My senior year we made it to the NIT in Madison Square Garden where we finished fourth. I believe I mentioned this before in a previous column, but I witnessed racial discrimination in 1963 when we played Memphis State in Memphis. The hotel where we were staying refused to let us eat in the hotel restaurant because we had two black ballplayers. Our head coach, Jack Kraft and his assistant, Jack Devine had all our meals delivered upstairs to a room, and then we beat Memphis State and the two players, Wally Jones and Jim Washington, went on to play in the NBA for over ten years each.
Thanks to Jay Wright, I along with anyone else connected to the Men’s Team, was invited to the Men’s Basketball Banquet on April 20. I will share how it turned out in a future column.
Author of: Induction Day at Cooperstown-A History of the Baseball Hall of Fame Ceremony and fellow Knight of Columbus Council 12240-Davie, FL. I can be reached at [email protected] or 954-533-6242 / 914- 769-8819