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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 3

Younger fans might have wondered what all the fuss was about when Rollie Massimino died this past week at age 82.

That might be difficult for those of us who have been around a long time to understand. Massimino made such an indelible impression in the hearts and minds of basketball fans that it’s easy to forget that 25 years have passed since he coached at Villanova.

The local college basketball atmosphere was different than it is today. Massimino coached during what is, arguably, the golden age of the Big 5. Rivalries were at their peak, and the Big 5 teams had national profiles.

Within an 11-year period, lasting from 1979-90, every Big 5 teams made a national impact. Penn reached the 1979 Final Four, where it was blown out, 101-67, by eventual national champion Michigan State, which featured point guard Magic Johnson. In 1981, Saint Joseph’s pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NCAA Tournament history by defeating top-ranked DePaul. Temple was the top-ranked team in the nation in 1988. La Salle was powered by by Lionel Simmons, who won the Naismith and Wooden player of the year honors as a senior and still ranks third on the NCAA’s all-time scoring list with 3,217 points.

The crown jewel in this awesome decade-plus of Big 5 basketball, however, was Villanova’s 1985 national championship. The Wildcats played in the Big East, which, with apologies to the ACC, was the best conference in the country. And the best year for the Big East was the 1984-85 season, when it placed three teams in the Final Four.

The heavyweight from the Big East was Georgetown. John Thompson was a huge presence, literally and figuratively, on the sidelines. The Hoyas’ top player was center Patrick Ewing, a big, physical player who embodied Georgetown’s intimidating style.

By contrast, Villanova wasn’t intimidating anyone. Massimino was almost a comical figure on the sideline, with his tie askew, shirt tail hanging out and his remaining hair pointing in all directions as he lived and died with every basket and turnover. In their last game before the NCAA Tournament, Villanova was blown out by Pittsburgh, so a national title wasn’t considered a realistic possibility by most observers.

Georgetown lived up its hype once the NCAA Tournament began, winning all of its games, including a second-round victory over Temple, by double digits except for an Elite Eight game against Georgia Tech. Villanova, seeded eighty in the Southeast, won its first three games, by a combined nine points. The Wildcats beat Dayton on the Flyers’ home court by two points, knocked off top-ranked Michigan by four points, and then beat 5th-seeded Maryland and Len Bias, the No. 2 pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, by three points. With its confidence brimming, the Wildcats final earned a double-digit victory in the Elite Eight, upsetting second-seeded North Carolina, 56-44.

Directing the Wildcats’ journey was Massimino. He made sure Villanova controlled the pace and played outstanding defense. Before the championship game against Georgetown, only one of Villanova’s tournament opponents scored more than 49 points (Michigan scored 55).

Part of Massimino’s genius was that he could dictate the style of the game. In NCAA Tournament games in which he had more than one day to prepare, Massimino was 15-1 while at Villanova. That statistic is a testament to Massimino’s ability to find a way to defeat each opponent.

He even devised a way to beat Georgetown in the championship game. The players deserve credit for executing the plan to near-perfection, but Massimino deserves credit for instilling that belief in his players when the conventional wisdom was that the Wildcats were lambs being led to the slaughter.

The image of the rumpled Massimino prowling the sidelines during the 66-64 victory over the Hoyas is etched in the minds of many local fans. But his dumpy image shouldn’t overshadow his brilliance as a coach. Massimino, an excellent tactician and creator of a family atmosphere among his players, is arguably the greatest coach during what is arguably the greatest era of Big Five basketball.

That is what all the fuss was about this week when Massimino died.

*****

NOTHING IS FINAL: The Eagles reduced their roster to 53 players, but it’s unlikely that Howie Roseman, executive vice president of football operations, is done shaping the roster. It’s difficult that the Eagles will begin the season with five running backs and only eight offensive linemen.

With six receivers on the roster, Shelton Gibson and Marcus Johnson shouldn’t get too comfortable. (And if Gibson weren’t a fifth-round draft pick, he would probably have been released.) For the same reason, running back Donnel Pumphrey, whom the Eagles traded up to select during the fourth round of the NFL Draft, remains on the roster after an unimpressive preseason and training camp. The Eagles elected to keep both Pumphrey and undrafted free agent Corey Clement, who was too good to be relegated to the practice squad.

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MAGIC MAN: It’s a tribute to Jon Dorenbos that the Eagles’ trade of their long-time long snapper last Monday created such a commotion. Dorenbos connected with the fans through the obstacles he’s overcome in life, his magic tricks and his endearing personality. It sounds strange to say about a long snapper, but he will be missed.

*****

CAUTION ON THE CORNER: When evaluating the performance of the Eagles defense, particularly in pass coverage, during the preseason, we should keep in mind that they faced some of the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL. In Sports Illustrated’s ranking of quarterbacks, the Jets’ Josh McCown ranks 29th and the Bills’ Tyrod Taylor ranks 30th. The Packers didn’t use Aaron Rodgers in their preseason game against the Eagles, and the Dolphins’ Jay Cutler was shaking off rust from retirement.

A better quarterback would be more effective in exploiting the Eagles’ weaknesses, such as their cornerbacks. (Yes, even with the addition of Ronald Darby.)

*****

ROAR OF THE NITTANY LIONS: It’s difficult to imagine a much better start to a season than Penn State’s 52-0 shellacking of Akron. The Nittany Lions will receive a much better next next Saturday (3:30 p.m.) against Pittsburgh, which beat Penn State last year.

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DON’T COUNT YOUR CHICKENS: After getting thumped by Notre Dame, 49-16, Temple is probably looking forward to Saturday’s game (3:30 p.m.) against Villanova. But the Owls would be wise to guard against overconfidence against the Wildcats, who opened their season with a 38-35 triumph over defending Patriot League-champion Lehigh. If the Owls let the Wildcats stay close into the fourth quarter, they may find themselves 0-2.

*****

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Bravo to Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who has raised more than $10 million to help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

*****

OVER AND OUT: The boxing match between 40-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr. and UFC fighter Conor McGregor was better than expected, but I’m glad the fight, with its over-the-top hype, is over.

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MURRAY UNDER FIRE: Andy Murray is taking some heat for his decision to withdraw from the U.S. Open with an injury. The problem is the timing of Murray’s decision. If Murray had withdrawn before the draw, the Open would have moved third seed Roger Federer into that half of the draw instead of leaving him in the same half of the draw as top-seeded Rafael Nadal. The consequence is that Nadal and Federer could meet in the semifinals while the upset-filled bottom half of the bracket is bereft of starts.

Nadal pointed out that it was unusual to withdraw after the draw without trying to play right up until the start of the tournament. Murray withdrew one day after the draw but two days before the tournament started.

*****

CUP HALF-EMPTY: A 2-0 loss to Costa Rica has put the United States’ hopes of qualifying for the men’s World Cup in jeopardy. With three games remaining in the CONCACAF tournament, the U.S. is tied for third place with Honduras, its opponent on Tuesday. Mexico and Honduras hold down the top two spots in the region.

Only the top three teams qualify automatically for next summer’s World Cup. The fourth-place team must take part in a “play-in game” to advance to the World Cup.

*****

FIT TO BE TIED: The Union’s propensity for blowing leads came back to haunt them during a 2-2 tie with Atlanta United FC. The Union missed a golden opportunity to gain ground on Atlanta, which occupies the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Union (8-12-7) trail Atlanta by five points, but have played three more games. To get to Atlanta, the Union also have to jump over Montreal and New England, both of whom have played one less game than the Union .

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TITLE PAIN AND GAIN: Congratulations to the Soul, who successfully defended their Arena Football League championship with a 44-40 victory over visiting Tampa Bay in ArenaBowl XXX. The hero of the game was Soul quarterback Dan Raudabaugh. While throwing a pick-six that put the Soul in a 20-7 hole, Raudabaugh sustained a torn ACL while being tackled.

After missing one play on the Soul’s next possession, Raudabaugh returned to the game. It took a complete team effort for the Soul to rally for victory, but their inspiration was their injured quarterback.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for 29 years, once played the majority of a Thanksgiving weekend pickup football game after tearing his ACL.

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