Wichita State basketball coach Gregg Marshall attended his first Final Four in 1985 in Lexington, Ky.
Rollie Massimino was there, as well, coaching Villanova to one of the tournament’s most famous victories. The Wildcats played what many consider a near-flawless 40 minutes to defeat favored Georgetown 66-64. On Saturday, the 79-year-old Massimino coaches NAIA school Northwood (Fla.) in an exhibition game against No. 11 Wichita State at Koch Arena.
“We have played a number of Final Four teams over the years, and we thought it was great that we could have this opportunity,” Massimino said Friday after a morning practice at Koch Arena. “They offered it to us, and the athletic director (Eric Sexton) was very nice.”
Marshall and Massimino discussed the game in March when Marshall entered the Final Four Coaches Club in Dallas. While Marshall tried on his new club blazer and mixed with coaches such as Denny Crum, Jim Harrick and Jerry Tarkanian, Massimino approached him.
“He said ‘I need you to play me,’” Marshall remembers. “‘I need an exhibition game.’”
Who can say no to Rollie Massimino?
That 1985 game remains one treasured by many coaches. Villanova made 79 percent of its shots, 22 of 28 from the field. In the second half, the Wildcats made 9 of 10 shots. They stunned the defending-champion Hoyas, and center Pat Ewing, with a patient, efficient attack in the era before the shot clock and the three-point line. While the game is remembered as a landmark upset, Georgetown won the regular-season meetings by two and seven points.
“Georgetown was like a juggernaut, with Ewing, Reggie Williams. …” Marshall remembers. “Villanova slowed it down and beat them.”
Those memories of the 1985 Final Four are also strong with coach Dale Faber, whose Friends team defeated Northwood 90-85 last season in the NAIA Division II tournament. When his teams at Bishop Carroll or Friends need an underdog example to follow, he often cites Villanova in 1985.
“I know I was rooting hard for him in 1985,” said Faber, then a freshman coach at Kapaun Mount Carmel. “I thought, and still think, that game is like a perfect template for understanding your roles and doing what you can do and not trying to do too much. That second half was as close to a perfect half of basketball as you can get to.”
Northwood is on an exhibition tour that started with a 92-51 loss at Iowa on Sunday and continued with a 30th reunion of the Villanova championship team on Tuesday in Philadelphia. Villanova won 93-50, which didn’t ruin the moment at all for Massimino.
“Every player came back,” he said. “It was a major, major celebration for two days.”
The Seahawks departed from West Palm Beach, Fla., two days before the Iowa game and stayed on the road. Massimino originally planned to play at Iowa and then come to Wichita. An opportunity to play Villanova changed the schedule.
Faber’s scouting report on the Seahawks is a reminder of how that 1985 Villanova team won. Massimino loves to change defenses from zone to man-to-man and back, and his players play smart basketball.
“You never know when a trap is coming,” Faber said. “He does a great job disguising things. I don't think he's going about his business any differently than at Villanova.”
Those tendencies are fine with Marshall. He will start his five veterans — seniors Darius Carter and Tekele Cotton and juniors Ron Baker, Evan Wessel and Fred VanVleet — and wants to get a good look at the eight scholarship players with no NCAA Division I experience. He has not decided if one of the newcomers will redshirt. Athletes can play in the exhibition game without forfeiting that ability.
An minor ankle injury may limit center Bush Wamukota, who injured it this week and missed some practice time.
“For us, it’s all about being able to adapt,” Marshall said. “You want to play all your new guys in front of the home crowd and with the bright lights on.”
WSU got its first look at outside competition a week ago against TCU in a closed scrimmage at Koch Arena. Marshall liked the contributions of freshman center Rauno Nurger and redshirt freshman guard Ria’n Holland in the workouts.
“It just validated what I already knew,” Marshall said. “Our first group, our veterans, are good and our young guys have a lot to learn. Mostly defensively. And a little bit offensively, where you don’t just hoist up a shot.”
Northwood is ranked No. 5 in the NAIA Division II preseason poll and returns All-American guard Chris Solomon and honorable mention All-American forward Fred Mattison.
“We have a very good team for our level,” Massimino said. “It’s a veteran team and we try to run up and down the floor and play good defense. I’m just looking for good chemistry, good rotations.”
Worth noting — Forward Malte Ziegenhagen led Northwood with 13 points at Villanova. The Seahawks shot 26.2 percent and committed 17 turnovers. At Iowa, Mattison scored 19 points and blocked two shots. Northwood made 30 percent of its shots. … Massimino coached against WSU twice while at Cleveland State. The Shockers defeated his team 72-70 early in the 1996-97 season and lost the return trip to Cleveland the next season, 64-63 in overtime. Massimino coached seven seasons at Cleveland State. He is in his ninth season at Northwood.
Northwood (Fla.) at Wichita State
When: 2 p.m. Saturday
Where: Koch Arena
Radio: KEYN, 103.7-FM
TV: Cox 22