A return to glory for Big East Catholic schools

Phil Consuegra

I’d like to take all of you for a little stroll down memory lane. It’s good to do this every once in a while, especially after the events that occurred this past weekend. Remember twenty years ago when the top teams in the country were teams like Georgetown, St. John’s, Marquette, Loyola Chicago, Temple and Villanova? Remember when small, Catholic schools always looked forward to basketball season because it was “their sport”?

Remember the 1985 Final Four, where three of the four teams were small Catholic Schools: Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s? It’s getting harder and harder to remember, as most of the Villanova student body hadn’t been born until after those days.

But it seems, at least for one weekend, that those days are poised to make a comeback. The small Catholic Schools (all in the Big East) took care of larger market teams. They did it together, as if to say “look out – we’re back.”

The day began in our nation’s capital, with a top ranked Duke team licking its chops at the chance to extend its winning streak and stranglehold on the college basketball world by merely playing around with an inferior Georgetown team whose best days were way behind them. Georgetown was now far away from the glory of the 1980s, and a long time had past since the days of Iverson. Duke looked ready for a cakewalk.

The Hoyas had different plans, going up big early in the game and then hanging on for a wild ride late in the second half. I liken Georgetown’s victory over Duke to Villanova’s victory over Kansas just a year ago: not just a victory to define a season, but a victory to define a program. The kind of victory a team and program needs in order to signal their return to glory. Georgetown, like Villanova before them, was a team ready to re-explode on the national scene. It seems as though the Hoyas got just that.

The day continued in Madison Square Garden, where Pitt was poised to extend their winning streak against a struggling, hapless program in St. John’s. The Panthers were clearly the favorites, carrying an undefeated record against a Red Storm team that was very, very beatable. The Johnnies had already stunned Louisville earlier in the week, and another upset was hardly in the works. Pitt relaxed, and it came back to bite them.

The week St. John’s had merits the type of resurgence the Johnnies were looking for. Chew on this: last year’s Villanova Wildcats were at the same point as the Red Storm when they got their win against Kansas, being 10-6, and 3-2 in the conference in the middle of January.

And we all know what a little momentum can do for a team. St. John’s may not sound like a tournament team now, but they’re ready to turn some heads coming up in about a month.

I think we all know how the day ended, with our very own Villanova Wildcats handing Syracuse – and Gerry McNamara and Jimmy Boeheim – its second straight loss. (I loved watching them look helpless on the other side of the court.) Another small Catholic school beating the big guy and proving itself worthy of respect was what happened in the Wachovia Center that night. It was a great way to cap off what I like to call “The Comeback Weekend” in College Basketball.

These wins signified the return of the small Catholic school to greatness on the basketball court. In a sport that has been recently dominated by large market, mostly big public universities (Duke is really the only exception), the glory of the 1985 Villanova Wildcats, the 1984 Georgetown Hoyas and the 1977 Marquette Golden Eagles has been forgotten.

Instead, we have the days of the Connecticuts and the North Carolinas and the Michigan States, which look to endanger the memories of the glory days of the Catholic schools. But as long as weekends like this keep coming, it will be harder and harder to turn away from the memories and glory days.

Sure, the days of Pinckney, Ewing and Mullin are over, but it looks as though, at least temporarily, that the small Catholic School is back on its way to glory – and they’re doing it together.